An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Whole School Evaluation
Ballincollig Community School
Ballincollig, County Cork
Roll number: 91386O
Date of inspection: 27 March 2006
Date of issue of report: 26 October 2006
This Whole School Evaluation report
This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Ballincollig Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the work of the school as a whole and makes recommendations for the further development of the work of the school. During the evaluation, the inspectors held pre-evaluation meetings with the principal, the teachers, the school’s board of management, and representatives of the parents’ association. The report includes evaluations on four curricular areas: (i) English, (ii) Materials Technology Wood and Construction Studies, (iii) Home Economics and (iv) Guidance. The evaluation was conducted over a number of days during which inspectors visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. They interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and interacted with the class teachers. They reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation, and met with various staff teams, where appropriate. Following the evaluation visit, the inspectors provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the staff and to the board of management. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
Ballincollig Community School, which is co-educational, is located in Ballincollig, a satellite town of Cork City. It was opened 1976 on a greenfield site and grew to approximately 900 students in the mid 1980s. With the opening of another school in the town the numbers dropped, settling in 2000 at approximately 600 students. The current enrolment is 614, consisting of 304 males and 310 females. The main feeder schools are Scoil Barra, Scoil Mhuire, Scoil Eoin and Ovens National School. Smaller numbers of students also come from a variety of other schools, both urban and rural. During recent years, in line with demographic trends in the area, the number of students enrolled with English as a second language (ESL) has increased significantly.
Following the decline of the original school building, a new school was built in 2002 under the public private partnership (PPP) scheme. It is one of five post-primary schools under the PPP scheme approved as part of the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Under the terms of the contract the company is required not only to construct the schools, but also to provide all fixed and loose furniture and fittings, including, inter alia, computers, physical education equipment, musical instruments and woodwork and metalwork equipment. The school has been designed, built, financed and will be operated for a period of twenty-five years by Jarvis Projects. The management of the school and its academic running remains with the school authorities and the State retains legal ownership of the property. The current principal has been in position since the commencement of the 2004-2005 academic year, the present deputy principal having been appointed in 1998.
The school provides the Junior Certificate, Transition Year, Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied programmes. An extensive adult education evening programme, with a current enrolment of 2358, also provides evidence of the school’s commitment to meeting the needs of the local community as a whole.
The characteristic spirit of Ballincollig Community School is based on respect and co-operation and is reflected in positive, friendly interactions between students, teachers and the wider community. The school’s ethos is based on the principles of inclusiveness, equality and democracy and a warm welcoming atmosphere was evident during the period of inspection. The school has close links with the surrounding community and the students include members of families that come from urban, rural and multi-national backgrounds. It welcomes, respects, and accommodates students from all socio-economic backgrounds and all ability levels. The caring culture within the school is illustrated in particular by the development of the “Buddy Scheme”, i.e. the development of friendships between Transition Year students and students from a local special school. Members of the school community told inspectors they enjoy coming to school and that there is great camaraderie among the staff.
The characteristic spirit of the school is embodied in the school’s mission statement, which is printed in the school’s information brochure: “To enable students to develop to their full potential – intellectually, spiritually, artistically, and socially, to foster in students a sense of respect for themselves and others and a sense of civic pride, and to provide the educational base from which students can proceed to earn a living in the future.”
The school provides a comprehensive curriculum to nurture the talents of all students academically, in sport and in extra-curricular activities. It has a well-developed pastoral care system permeating the school as evidenced by the very good level of care and respect for students. Management and staff are committed to the holistic development and the achievement of the full potential of each student.
Co-operation between students, teachers, ancillary staff, senior management, parents and board members was evident throughout. Close links are encouraged between school and parents through open days, information evenings and the parents’ association. The significant adult education programme enhances this marked relationship with both the parents and the local community. The school effectively communicates the ethos to the school community and wider community through school newsletters and other vehicles. It has been acknowledged that the school needs to update its extensive website to reflect current practices in the school and thereby provide up-to-date information to the wider community.
The school is managed by an active and engaged board of management (BOM). The composition of the BOM is in accordance with the deeds of trust for community schools. The current board is in its third and final year of existence. The role of chairperson rotates annually between the nominees and representatives of the nominating bodies. The school principal acts as secretary to the BOM.
The BOM operates efficiently, in an atmosphere of cooperation and collective responsibility, in the interests of the school. It has a natural, open-door relationship, and several members stated that it is very supportive of the principal and deputy principal. Meetings take place on a monthly basis. All matters relating to the management of the school are discussed at these meetings, decisions being made generally by consensus. The life-experience of BOM members assist in the process of informative decision-making. The effective circulation of the agendas and minutes enhances communication between board members. The principal and board members also communicate as required between board meetings.
Priority areas for development within the school have been identified by the BOM, in conjunction with the teachers and in-school management. While acknowledging the fact that the school is at an early stage in the school development planning (SDP) process, it is evident that the inclusive process of policy development in which the BOM involves itself is not a rubber-stamping exercise but one that involves all the stakeholders and is representative of the views of each.
Good working relationships have been established between the board, staff, students and parents. The principal attends all meetings of the parents’ association and reports on relevant issues from the BOM, respecting the usual rules of confidentiality. Teachers relate back agreed reports on a less-regular basis. It is recommended that the development of formalised procedures for giving agreed reports to the nominating bodies take place. Two representatives of the board attend the annual convention for the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS). It is noteworthy that the BOM seeks advice from relevant bodies, including the ACCS, when necessary.
In conclusion the board is aware of its role and responsibilities, is clear on what needs to be done in relation to policy development and the effective running of the school. It is fully cognisant of and recognises the key role of the principal, deputy principal and the work of staff. It is commended that the BOM organises training and presentations from a variety of sources, the most recent being a presentation on the Child Protection Guidelines, in order to further develop skills thus ensuring that its responsibilities can be implemented in an effective manner.
Senior management demonstrates very effective leadership. The principal and deputy principal have clearly-defined roles, illustrate a strong sense of team spirit, work very well together and communicate with each other on an ongoing basis both formally and informally. They have a good vision for the school and lead it well in all aspects of management, demonstrating the ability to think and plan strategically. This combined with their interpersonal skills bear out their suitability to their respective roles. Both are dedicated and committed to the school. They work tirelessly to implement the vision of the school, in developing, initiating, reviewing and building for the present and the future. In this, they are strongly supported by the staff as a whole.
Communication and collaboration with all other members of the school community is central to the work of senior management. This is done very effectively by use of both the principal’s and teachers’ notice boards in the staffroom, email, intercom announcements to students, and utilisation of the student journal and newsletters for parents. The principal issues comprehensive bulletins by email every Monday morning to each teacher, informing him or her of issues pertinent to staff, students and school activities. At the beginning of the school year both teaching and non-teaching staff receive the calendar by email. The openness and leadership of both principal and deputy principal is also characterised by personal contact, availability to all staff and students and visibility on the school corridors. Senior management stated “As a school we recognise the importance and value of partnership; of working with students, parents and the community as a whole”.
The relationship between the senior management and the whole staff is based on a partnership and team approach. A high degree of consultation is engaged in as part of the decision-making process. Formal, minuted staff meetings are held once a term, with the option of shorter meetings during the weekly-allocated time slot when required. Senior management encourages effective staff participation in decision-making. A collaborative approach is adopted at staff meetings, which are in effect workshops. Working groups comprise teachers of varying experience, expertise and backgrounds. Sub-committees are set up on a needs basis to research staff issues. Senior management and colleagues commendably support new teachers.
The diverse nature of the school’s provision in addition to the range of initiatives and programmes in operation means that there is need for a high degree of delegation within the context of the management of the school. Thus posts of responsibility tend to be very active roles, not sinecures. The majority of assistant principals are year heads and are very involved in their year groups. They have both a disciplinary and pastoral role and a very good relationship with students has been developed. Ongoing communication between senior management and other members of staff, both teaching and non-teaching, is considered necessary to ensure effective carrying out of duties. Communication with home is regular and effective. In the context of possible increasing enrolment, the benefits of facilitating a regular, if possible, weekly meeting of year heads to discuss organisational and discipline issues deserve to be explored. If this is not practicable, separate meetings of junior cycle year heads and senior cycle equivalents would be an alternative. Regular year head meetings have often been recognised as a useful tool in preventing misbehaviour or poor attendance by some students from escalating.
The duties of other assistant principals and of special duties teachers generally reflect the interests of the teachers and respond to the needs of the school. The amount of formal contact between senior management and other staff members is dependent on the specific role of the post holder. These duties are carried out in a professional and commendable manner and the post holders show a high level of commitment to the school. It is noteworthy that in light of changes in senior management since 2004 and the recent appointment of new assistant principal and special duties post holders, a temporary review of the schedule of posts was conducted. However, areas such as IT coordination were not incorporated into the revised schedule. Therefore, building on the excellent work already initiated, it is recommended that an audit of the needs of the school should be carried out and a more comprehensive review of the schedule of posts should be performed. This is particularly relevant in the context of the school’s changing enrolment patterns, the recent engagement with SDP and the change in senior management. The posts should be tailored to ensure that the needs of the school continue to be met and to address any imbalance in the current post structure.
Management of students is effective. Assembly is considered to have a key role in communicating with students, who are met with once a day. Positive staff-student relations are promoted by the school’s characteristic concern for the individual and his or her progress and well being. Students move about the school to their various activities without the need for high profile supervision. Good supports exist for students. This is evidenced by the well-organised year head and class tutor system, the class tutor having a particularly important role in junior cycle. Notice boards are used throughout the school to post notices for all sporting and cultural activities. During the evaluation process, students were visibly engaged in sports training and other activities with their teachers. The plasma screen, which is on view directly inside the front door of the school, is very successfully employed to celebrate student achievements and activities. Student work and photographs of student involvement in a range of activities are displayed throughout the school and published through the school’s contacts with local newspapers, thus acknowledging student participation and attainment, and encouraging a sense of pride and ownership of their school.
The school’s draft admissions policy defines the school’s open policy and outlines the criteria employed, the procedure for enrolment and transfer from other schools, and the modus operandi of appealing an unsuccessful application for enrolment. Senior management has concurred that the admissions policy needs to be revisited in light of implications relating to deferral and refusal to enrol, and its concerns regarding the appropriate provision of resources by the DES in advance of enrolment. The school, in fact, operates a clear open door policy when it comes to admissions and would have nothing to fear from stating this in its admissions policy. The existing code of behaviour was drawn up by previous management, in accordance with DES circulars, in consultation with teachers, parents and approved by the BOM. The facility for parents to respond to subject teacher’s comments in the student journal augments the two-way communication between home and school. Much work and reflection is currently going into the review of the code of behaviour, which is published in the student journal. It was stated that a positive behavioural programme was previously found to be ineffective in the school. However, in view of the current review of the code of behaviour and in the context of changing student profiles, it is suggested that this could be revisited and perhaps some elements of it considered for inclusion in the new code.
The school liaises effectively with external agencies, including the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB), the National Education Psychological Service (NEPS) and the local primary schools. Management, the special education needs (SEN) teachers and others visit the schools. Ongoing close communication with the education welfare officer enhances the monitoring of student attendance and an attendance strategy operates in the school. This is commended. The NEWB statistics show that the number of students absent for greater than twenty days is low. Taking cognisance of the availability of ICT in all classrooms, an additional support that the school could consider more easily than most schools is the introduction of computerised attendance procedures on a twice-daily basis. Appropriate lines of communication have been developed with the company involved in the PPP. Strong and effective links have been developed with the local community and enterprises in the town. Local enterprises provide work experience opportunities for TYP and LCA students, and sponsorship has been forthcoming for student activities. Cooperation and collaboration between the principals of local primary and post-primary schools is enhanced by regular meetings, where issues of mutual concern are discussed.
Both the BOM and in-school management promote and facilitate the involvement of parents in the school, ensuring a flow of information, regular contact, and appropriate arrangements to facilitate awareness among parents of the procedures which exist for processing complaints. Taking cognisance of the increasing numbers of parents who have not had children at the school previously, it is noteworthy that management is currently considering holding a parents’ meeting to reinforce school procedures prior to student entry. Contact and links with parents on student progress, behaviour and attainment are regular, systematic and open. The parents’ association has been actively involved representing the views of parents to the principal and staff of the school, and to the BOM through the parent nominees, since the inception of the school. The committee meets monthly, the principal giving an updated report on school issues. This very good practice should be expanded to include the development of annual reporting procedures in accordance with section 20 of the Education Act 1998. The association supports a range of activities in the school, for instance, being involved in mock interviews for students and organising speakers on issues of importance to parents, students and staff, in addition to helping with the running of the school library. A recent example of its collaboration with the student council is in the design and distribution of the school tracksuit and work on the substance abuse policy. This active engagement and level of commitment is highly commended.
The staffing allocation from the Department of Education and Science (DES) for the current year is 43.33 whole-time teacher equivalents (WTE). This allocation includes the ex-quota posts of principal, deputy principal, guidance counsellor, learning support teacher and chaplain. The school has also received concessionary hours to support the teaching and learning process. In addition to the teaching staff, the school employs four secretaries who job share and one whose sole function is adult education. Special needs assistants (SNAs) have been very effectively employed since November 2004.
Senior management takes overall responsibility for the allocation of teachers and the timetable. Classes generally retain the same teacher for a subject in junior cycle and again in senior cycle. The teaching staff is deployed appropriately, making proper use of its individual specialities and interests for the benefit of the school and its students. High priority is given to the continuing professional development of the staff, both at a subject specific and whole staff level. The staff is further supported through the provision of a very spacious staffroom, which caters for its needs in terms of working areas, storage of materials, notice boards, etc. In a school which offers places to a number of Higher Diploma in Education students every year and in anticipation of increasing student enrolment resulting in the employment of new staff, the production of a revised staff handbook and the introduction of a formalised mentoring system for new teachers is deserving of consideration.
It is noteworthy that senior management looks after the financial aspects of the running of the school and subject departments are supported financially on a needs basis.
The new building was provided as part of the pilot Public Private Partnership (PPP) project between the Dept. of Education and Science and Jarvis plc. Ballincollig Community School was one of five schools involved in this project, which saw the new building open by late 2003, with the Jarvis company retaining significant involvement in the management of school resources.
On a number of very important levels, the PPP project has been very beneficial to Ballincollig Community School. The building itself has six science laboratories, four dedicated computer rooms and essentially enough classrooms for teachers to have their own base rooms. There are office facilities not only for administrative staff and senior management but also for a number of other teachers with specialist or middle management roles. With a total of just over three hundred computers supplied under the contract, there are a number of computers in several classrooms and all specialist facilities. The school also boasts a performing arts area and Music room, as well as a full-sized gymnasium and fitness suite. A large cafeteria provides food for the student population and there are well-appointed lockers for all students. Outdoor facilities include six tennis and basketball courts, a pre-existing astro-turf pitch and a sand-based playing pitch capable of accommodating full scale football or hurling matches.
To some extent, management of resources from the school’s perspective is simpler because of the PPP arrangement. The private company, for example, is the employer of the caretaking and cafeteria staff, meaning that matters like their terms of employment, contracts and wages are not issues for in-school management or the board of management to concern themselves with. School management has also spoken very highly about the work done in the area of general maintenance and in the willingness of the parent company to facilitate requests for a healthier cafeteria menu. The presence of a company representative during fire drills, and of a facilities manager once a month, are additional important supports from Jarvis in the management of the school’s resources.
The lack of full control over school resources has, in a number of practical ways, remained a challenge for the management of the school. With restricted access to the school in the evening time, it has become more difficult for the school to make its facilities available to the local community, something which has been a significant cause of concern. The process in place to facilitate often simple matters of maintenance or repair can involve a deal of paperwork and sometimes delay which management has little control over. Complexities due to the subcontracting of some supply and maintenance issues, as well as uncertainties for the school management around the overall agreement between the Department and the Jarvis company have all added to the challenge of successfully managing resources. It has also been the case that any alterations to original specifications, from storage space to matters relating to voltage or phone line changes, have been both complex and expensive considerations.
On a practical level, occasional difficulties have arisen, and remain unresolved within the PPP agreement, in relation to matters like equipment supply and maintenance, the quality of some items which have been supplied and, in places, omissions from the originally-anticipated fit-out of rooms. The ICT system is, in so many respects, ‘state of the art’ although management again faces some uncertainty here as the initial contract for supply and maintenance has expired in recent months, with no replacement arrangement in place as yet. Some rooms and storage and preparation areas in practical subjects visited during the course of various facets of the whole school evaluation also presented difficulties with the arrangements for ventilation and dust extraction. Some concern was also expressed about the location of electrical sockets in chemical stores. While several of these issues may be linked to teething difficulties in any school building and fit-out process, they do collectively present an ongoing challenge for the management of resources within what is otherwise a very well-resourced school building. Management are encouraged to continue to be proactive in solving the ongoing issues in relation to the PPP.
The process of school development planning was initiated at the start of this academic year, following consultation with a facilitator from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI), who recommended that the principal should settle into her new role in the school for the initial year in advance of commencement. The process is highly valued and firmly based on the principles of research, review, identification of needs and priorities, formulation of action plans and on-going consultation. Following discussion at the initial school planning day, priority areas were identified by staff and seven task groups were set up to begin the development of whole school policies in the following areas; curriculum review with a special focus on first year, code of behaviour, attendance and participation, special educational needs, the needs of international students, communications and substance use. Child protection, the admissions policy and the Health and Safety Statement have also recently been under review.
Immense progress in the development of these policies has since been made, due in no small part to the high level of commitment and collaboration between teachers themselves and indeed between all the partners in education. This collaborative approach to planning ensures that the whole school community is consulted and kept informed of progress at regular intervals. Management should continue the inclusion of parents and students in the form of the student council in the planning process where appropriate. The weekly meeting slot is currently employed in the main to facilitate SDP task group meetings, although records of meetings of the task groups indicate that many meetings were also held outside the school timetable. External agencies were consulted for advice. A review of the work to date in the above areas and the draft policies is planned for the end of the school year.
A health and safety risk assessment was conducted during February of this year and the school is currently awaiting the final report. Jarvis provided the current joint plan in 2002, but commendably management considered that an external assessment needed to take place to ensure that all safety requirements are met, taking cognisance of the complication that the school’s statement must align with the Jarvis statement.
It is noteworthy that review dates are incorporated into some policies. It is recommended that this good practice be built upon and that review dates are incorporated into all policies. It is also sensible that where some policies have been identified as particularly complex, extensions have already been built in to ensure that satisfactory time will be available to explore the issues thoroughly.
Evidence was provided to confirm that the board of management and staff have taken appropriate steps to develop policies in line with the provisions in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (Department of Health and Children, 2004) and Child Protection Guidelines for Post-primary Schools (Department of Education and Science, September 2004). Evidence was also provided to confirm that the board of management has adopted and implemented the policies. A designated liaison person has been appointed in line with the requirements of the Departmental guidelines.
The process engaged in by the school at this time is an example of excellent practice and all the partners are encouraged to build on this good work and continue to undertake strategic and operational planning in relation to the development and improvement of educational practice and care. When this early stage of policy development has been completed, it is expected that the school will reinforce its commitment to planning by advancing to curriculum planning. Mindful of the changing physical locality and student population, the possibility of putting a five-year development plan in place should also be considered.
Ballincollig Community offers a comprehensive curriculum, addressing the needs of the general student population in terms of the development of moral, spiritual, emotional, social, physical and intellectual growth. The curriculum provided also reflects the aspirations of parents and the profile of the student intake in general. The following curricular programmes are on offer: Junior Certificate, Transition Year Programme (TYP), the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCAP). The board of management recognises that provision for the quality of curriculum is the key responsibility of in-school management and staff. The principal and the teachers advise the board on such issues and decisions are made in a consultative manner.
The school timetable provides the basis for the evaluation of curriculum provision and the breadth and balance of programmes and subjects within the school. Following a detailed analysis of the timetable supplied to the evaluation team in advance of the WSE, a few points of merit are made. It is noteworthy that the total time allocated weekly for instruction, for all year groups complies with the requirements of the Department of Education and Science Circular Letter M29/95. Whole-school support for the provision of subjects at all levels is good. While acknowledging the low time allocation in some subjects in first year due to the taster system, subjects are generally provided with an appropriate time allocation as set out in syllabus guidelines. Timetabling arrangements in terms of distribution of lessons and the provision of double periods for practical classes are appropriate in almost all cases.
SPHE is now taught within a single stand-alone timetable period in first year. Senior management is aware that SPHE must also be provided in the remaining years of junior cycle in accordance with the Rules and Programmes for Second Level Schools and has already taken steps to ensure that this will occur. The numbers of teachers who expressed a desire to attend in-service, five of whom are currently trained, provides evidence of staff interest in the subject.
To ensure timetabling is fair and equitable, teachers have the opportunity to deliver their subjects at all levels. It is praiseworthy that subject link teachers are being put in place on a rotational basis to liaise with the principal in terms of resource needs, timetabling and other issues relating to the subject. They also ensure that all subject-specific information is disseminated to their colleagues.
All classes are mixed ability in nature in first year, one class group being predominantly ordinary level. Some students, predominantly from the ordinary level class group and some from the group above, in consultation with parents opt for extra Maths and English instead of German. In second and third year, the core subjects of Gaeilge, English and Maths are run concurrently for three class groups, thus facilitating maximum flexibility and movement of students between levels within these class groups. In both second and third year, subjects in one class group, which is designated to do higher level in all subjects do not run concurrently with the other classes. In second year a predominantly ordinary level class is also timetabled separately. Those students who refrain from studying a continental language in second and third year receive extra support. Streaming is maintained for other designated core subjects, while Science is banded to achieve class numbers appropriate for laboratory work. All optional subjects in both junior and senior cycle are mixed ability in nature. A similar process operates in senior cycle. The flexibility in the timetabling of both junior and senior cycle to meet the varying needs of all students is to be highly commended. Management is commended on the provision of all subjects at each level and a higher-level ethic is encouraged among the student population.
The Transition Year Programme (TYP) has been in operation for approximately fifteen years in the school and is compulsory for all students intending to go on to do the established Leaving Certificate. During the course of the evaluation it was suggested that the merits of an optional TYP could be investigated. TY offers a very good educational experience for the students and deals appropriately with the overall aims of the programme, as laid down in Circulars M1/00, M31/93 and M47/93. The programme, which is managed effectively by the coordinator, is constantly evolving in response to changing needs of students, thus resulting in the development of a wide ranging and worthwhile experience for participants. The programme, which aims to promote personal, social, educational and vocational development of the students, is supported by subject- and module-planning documents. While in some instances, written TY programmes of work have been developed to generate student interest and knowledge in innovative ways, topics on the Leaving Certificate syllabuses form the nuclei of a minority of subject modules. It is recommended that in any review of the written programmes being undertaken, the school should continue to remain mindful of the TY philosophy of a broad-based education rather than to go further in the direction of dealing with topics from Leaving Certificate syllabuses in some subjects.
It is good to note that taking cognisance of the fundamental difference between the TYP and junior cycle programme, a student induction programme clarifies the methodologies employed and the activities and expectations involved. Each student, one of his or her parents and the principal sign a contract of learning for TYP indicating his or her special area of study. Students involve themselves in many new experiences and challenges on two afternoons a week in a cycle of three nine-week blocks. Students choose from modules such as, film studies, photography and a range of sporting activities, including outdoor pursuits. It is noteworthy that in keeping with the caring and inclusive ethos of the school, students have the option of studying sign language and interacting with students in the local special school, in the form of the Buddy system. Certification in ECDL and first aid is available to students who choose these optional modules. This is commended. A very well-organised work experience programme plays an essential role in the non-academic aspect of TYP. Interest has also been expressed locally in the idea of developing a social work element in TY at some future point and this would certainly enhance the programme and meet the general requirements of TY as per previous Department circulars.
In the interests of equity and to meet the needs of all students, the school offers the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme (LCAP) as an option in senior cycle. Ongoing commitment from management and teachers, including professional development in this area, contributes to the effective delivery of the programme. The organisation and planning of the programme is commendably facilitated by the appointment of two coordinators, who have clearly-defined roles. Careful timetable planning, incorporating the work experience modules, supports the delivery of the curriculum in the main. A review of the subjects on offer is planned. It is good to note that a range of elective modules are offered to the students, not least because it presents the opportunity for further provision of a broad-based education.
It is suggested that if the school feels itself in a position to increase its programme provision, consideration might be given to the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP). The Junior Certificate School Programme is not an option at present, as the school does not have disadvantaged status, while the school’s broad range of subjects and the fact that access to local third level institutions could be improved for some students are factors in this recommendation that the LCVP deserves active consideration in future curricular planning.
The commitment and dedication of the adult and community education department of Ballincollig Community School to lifelong learning is evidenced by the diverse range of innovative evening classes offered. During the spring of 2006, 129 courses were offered ranging from ICT, sport, health and beauty, foreign languages and cookery for both men and women. The success of this all-encompassing programme is a consequence in part of the team approach, which is clearly evident in the active department, consisting of an adult education director, an assistant principal and two special duties teachers. Duties include the design of the programme, advertising, employment of tutors and liaison with the five community schools providing adult education in the Cork area.
A guiding principle of Ballincollig Community School is that each student should be provided with all the support and help needed to achieve his potential as a fully functioning member of society. This principle informs the school’s approach to the process of subject option choice. All junior cycle students study a core curriculum of Religious Education, Irish, English, Mathematics, History, Geography, Science, Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE), and Physical Education (PE). First-year students also study all the option subjects in the format of a carousel, including in rotation: Art, Business Studies, Materials Technology Wood (MTW), Metalwork, Home Economics, Music and Technical Graphics). All students study French in first year, while German is taken by students who do not opt for the extra support provided in the small-class group. The provision of a subject taster system in first year is praiseworthy as it assists students in making informed subject choices for Junior Certificate (JC).
An extensive support programme is in place to support subject- and career-choices. This involves information meetings for parents, class groups, and individual students as well as relevant documentation, guidebooks, etc. At one of these information evenings attended by both the principal and deputy principal, the guidance counsellor gives a presentation to the parents of first- year students, following which they received an information pack and a copy of the preliminary options form. The choice involves opting for French, German or no language, and then selecting two of the other optional subjects offered for Junior Certificate in the school. The school itself is mindful of the fact that the current mechanism prevents students studying two modern languages and has made efforts to investigate solutions to this difficulty, which are certainly commended. The school is to be highly commended for offering such a comprehensive curriculum at junior cycle as it allows all students access the maximum range of choices at senior cycle.
Appropriate guidance and a parents’ information night for third-year students facilitate the process of informed programme and subject selection for senior cycle. Students opt for TYP or LCAP. It is good to note that students have input into the creation of the subject option blocks. Students’ initial choices are used to create a “best-fit” model for senior cycle subjects. However, the fact that Leaving Certificate subject pre-selection occurs in advance of TYP is not generally considered best practice as it does not allow students the extra year of experience and maturity before making their choices. During the WSE process, varying views were expressed by the educational partners on this process of subject pre-selection. Some discussion of the possibility of introducing a subject-taster system in Transition Year has occurred between senior management and the parents’ association. It is unclear whether this is viable or not but certainly the agreement to continue consideration of this idea is commended. In the context of curricular planning it is recommended that an intensive review of this subject choice process take place. Indeed an investigation of the merits of the compulsory versus optional nature of TYP could also be considered.
While an individual-appointment system is generally the modus operandi practiced by the guidance counsellor, it is noteworthy that all students are aware that there is also an open door policy. The library in the guidance suite provides up to date information on career guidance and contains prospectuses for various third-level colleges, PLC courses, etc. Information on individual careers is available both in written and electronic formats. The guidance notice board on display outside the guidance suite is also a valuable source of information. The commendable practice of ensuring parental awareness and approval of student programme or subject choice and change of options is noted.
The management and staff of the school are commended for the care and attention they exercise in ensuring that the students’ educational welfare and personal preferences determine the design of subject option groups.
The school provides a comprehensive programme of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. They are well organised and provide opportunities for all students to participate in an active manner. BOM members have been hugely complimentary of the input of teachers and the value accruing from extra- and co-curricular activities. A strong emphasis on the development of the whole person is evident in the range of activities, which supports the academic curriculum of the school as well as providing experiences of a cultural, social, sporting and spiritual nature. Exciting co-curricular activities exist in the majority of curricular areas including musical and literary activities, language and cultural tours, fieldtrips, involvement in subject competitions and visits to places of relevance and interest to the education programme. Involvement in the European Studies exchange programme has facilitated joint study and communication amongst students and teachers in several European jurisdictions. Historically the school has been to the fore in the initiation of what ultimately became known as the ‘Form and Fusion’ competition.
While sporting activities, in particular, feature strongly in this school, emphasis is placed on the development of the whole person and students are encouraged to participate actively in accordance with their own talents and areas of interest. Facilities are of a very high standard and all students have Physical Education lessons every week in addition to the extensive extra-curricular sports programme. Transition Year students, in conjunction with the PE department, organise an annual school sports day for first- and second-year students. The pride in sporting participation and success is evident in the school newsletters and in the display on the plasma screen in the school foyer. Sports provision includes hurling, Gaelic football for both girls and boys, soccer, camogie, badminton, golf, basketball and athletics. Students have the opportunity to learn skiing on the annual skiing trip. The involvement of Ballincollig Community School in the annual Eurofoot Soccer competition, in which it represents Ireland dates back to its beginnings in 1990. In keeping with the government’s promotion of active lifestyles, a fitness week is also organised for students.
Non-sporting extra-curricular activities include student participation in the annual school show, the Blast Beat competition, debating, public speaking and foreign tours. Among the awards conferred on students are the Éacht awards, which are presented to students who have made outstanding contributions to the school and community. Students and teachers are commended for their involvement with the Green Schools environmental project. Last year they registered for the “Green Flag”. Students are to be praised for their participation in an environmental clean-up. These initiatives are sponsored by “An Taisce”. It is noteworthy that they also involve students collaboarting with parents, fellow students, the local community and the county council.
Those involved are to be praised for their unstinting commitment to facilitating this vast array of stimulating educational and sporting activities. Management and staff are simply applauded and encouraged to continue to develop and sustain this excellent range of activities and explore all areas of interest to the student body.
A considerable amount of work has been done in recent years across various subjects in the area of collaborative planning. In most subject areas involved in the evaluation, subject departments of two or more teachers have been formed, with the designation of at least one subject link teacher on an annual basis being the norm. In Guidance, while a fine individual plan has been developed around an annual review of students’ needs, moves have also been initiated towards developing a whole-school approach to Guidance planning. This is recommended for continued development, perhaps to include provision in time for a core Guidance planning group at the school.
A mix of formal and informal meetings have taken place across a wide range of subjects and much good collaborative work has been done on issues such as textbook selection within different class contexts, the identification of resource and equipment needs and difficulties, as well as general issues of subject development. Some excellent team planning has also gone into the incorporation of advice from support services, including the SDPI and Integrate Ireland Language and Training. Advice has also been sought on cross-curricular approaches to teaching Transition Year students and meeting the needs of a more culturally-diverse society. Considerable and most productive planning has taken place in the organisation of a host of extra- and co-curricular activities by individual teachers or subject-teaching groups.
Some items of good practice which have been identified in individual subject areas are recommended for wider application. The preparation of an agenda and the keeping of minutes of any formal meetings are standard in some subjects and would be worthwhile in all, helping as they do to chart the progression of issues and the recording of decisions and accomplishments. Some excellent subject-planning frameworks have been seen, including, some of those for the LCAP, with again the recommendation being offered that this structured approach, in line with SDPI guidelines, be applied across all subject areas. Inspectors have pointed out that such a systematic approach requires considerable time, with some recommendations being made that planning for one junior and one senior cycle year group in any one academic year would be more manageable than trying to cover everything simultaneously.
In moving the planning process forward from organisational planning, it has been suggested in some instances that planning could also incorporate issues around teaching, including successful methodology, the incorporation of information technology and developing common approaches to assessment. Some inspectors have identified a need to develop planning in practical rooms on issues like safety markings and signage, while in other cases some suggestions have been offered on the matter of preparing outline guides to help new teachers or higher diploma students to become familiar with the workings of a larger subject department. It is also offered as standard good practice for a departmental meeting, when time allows, to consider issues like performance in State examinations and higher and ordinary uptake levels. These suggestions are offered to assist in the continued development of the good practice which has evolved in subject planning to date.
A fine standard of teaching, conducive to good student-learning, has been in evidence during the subject inspection process. Lessons were well prepared with very good short term planning in evidence in many cases, along with a selection of planning documentation. Objectives were clear in classes and this practice was further enhanced in a number of cases where teachers clearly identified and shared the purpose of the lesson with students. In many instances, well-planned and structured activities were managed very effectively.
Questioning of students featured widely in classes as a teaching and evaluative tool. Questioning was frequently used as a means of establishing links between students’ prior knowledge and the new topics being presented. Teachers displayed a consciousness of the need to distribute questions across class groups in many lessons. Questioning was most effective where teachers used a mixture of global and directed questioning and varied their questioning style during the course of the lesson.
There was evidence that ICT is used to support and enhance the teaching and learning of subjects in the school. Examples included the ready use of ICT skills by students in one lesson, the creation of a wide range of web based resources in another instance and a range of student displays created with the aid of word processing packages throughout the school. This was most positive. Teachers have been encouraged to build on the good practice which already exists in the area of ICT and to seek to expand this where it would be practicable and appropriate to the furthering of students’ experiences of subjects. A wide range of other resources was used in classes and teachers are to be complimented on this good practice.
There was a good atmosphere in classes and in some instances the high quality of relationships between teachers and students was particularly noteworthy. Students were regularly affirmed during lessons. Lessons were generally well structured and paced. Active methodologies were particularly successful as a means of engaging students in lessons and of encouraging independent learning. Teachers are encouraged to continue with this practice and to widen the use of active methodologies, pair and group work in classes as a means of aiding differentiation and student participation in lessons.
Rooms were generally bright and well laid out with appropriate seating arrangements. Student displays and educational literature and posters were frequently in evidence. The former were particularly positive, encouraging students to emulate the success of their peers. Teachers are complimented on their work in this regard and are encouraged to further increase the display of students’ work where practicable.
Students responded well, retained material in classes and displayed a knowledge and understanding of the tasks in which they were engaged. Students showed a willingness to contribute in classes and take part in activities as directed by teachers.
A wide range of assessment modes were utilised informally in classes, in order to determine student progress and achievement in the subjects inspected. The very good practice of assessing students’ project and practical work was also noted, both informally as the work is being completed, as a means of affirming and encouraging student effort, as well as formally in order to record student progress. In some instances, percentages of the outcomes of students’ continuous assessment, in written, project and practical work, were incorporated into the grade awarded to students at Christmas and summer and this approach, where relevant, is fully encouraged for two reasons. Firstly, it is desirable to adopt modes of assessment similar to those adopted in State examinations and secondly, an aggregate result is a more accurate indicator of a student’s actual achievement in the subject.
Formal house examinations are organised in the school twice yearly, at Christmas and again prior to the summer holidays. In one of the subjects evaluated, teachers set common papers for the house examinations and common marking schemes are used in the correction of these papers. This practice is encouraged in the assessment of students in all subjects, as it allows for a clear picture to emerge with regard to an individual student’s achievement in comparison with the entire student cohort within a year group. In circumstances where a class might not benefit from sharing a complete examination paper in common with their year group, it is recommended that teachers investigate the provision of a paper with some common elements.
On the whole, teachers were very systematic in their approach to the recording and filing of students’ assessment outcomes. Parents are informed of students’ progress through the issuing of reports following the formal house examinations and by means of the parent-teacher meetings which take place once per annum for each year group. The student journal also offers another mechanism through which teachers and parents can communicate and monitor student progress, application and achievement. Individual appointments with teachers can also be arranged as required. In some instances, it is recommended that students also be kept informed of their progress on a regular basis, as such an approach affirms effort and achievement, provides a meaningful frame of reference for students and empowers students to track their own success and to work towards attainable goals.
In general, homework was assigned, monitored and corrected on a regular basis. Some excellent examples of comment-only marking were noted in some instances. This very positive approach to monitoring student work is greatly encouraged in all subject areas, as it reflects the principles of assessment for learning (AFL). Information on this approach can be accessed through the website of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment at www.ncca.ie.
Overall, students were fully engaged in classroom activities, displayed a degree of knowledge, understanding and skill that was consistent with their level and demonstrated an enthusiasm and curiosity for the subject matter being explored in lessons. Lessons were also noted as suitably challenging. The high standard of students’ practical and project work was also observed.
Very effective measures exist in Ballincollig Community School to ensure that the procedures and provision for students with SEN are well managed. It is very evident that the learning support (LS) department is vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic. There is a focused and effective learning support team, consisting of two qualified teachers, a small number of teachers who have expressed an interest in working with SEN students and special needs assistants (SNAs). This team is dedicated to providing a very high standard of learning and teaching for the students in their care, which is enhanced by collaborative planning. Enthusiasm amongst staff in the school in working with these students is clearly evidenced by the need for an interview process in order to select a candidate to complete a post-graduate diploma in learning support in 2002.
The LS department is well supported by school management, the two LS teachers meeting on a weekly basis both with each other and also with the principal to discuss and review strategies and the progress of individual students. Meetings with other learning support personnel and the guidance counsellor are organised on a needs basis. Liaison between the LS team and the subject teachers is on an informal basis. While acknowledging the necessity of constant informal communication between subject and LS teachers, consideration might be given to the establishment of a more formal structure to complement this very good practice. This department is very well resourced with a fully-equipped LS office, separate resource rooms and a suite of interconnecting rooms, with six computers in each room, thus facilitating team teaching. The visually-rich environment is enhanced by the display of student work on the walls of the classrooms. Teachers are encouraged to build on this excellent practice. Management is to be commended for the support it has given in building up the resources, which include up to date resource material in literacy and numeracy as well as some computer packages.
Learning support hours are provided to students whose reading ages are four years or more behind in their chronological ages. Resource time is allocated to those students with current psychological assessments. Effective and skilled use of resources is ensured by the variety of approaches employed in providing support for SEN students. These include team teaching with small class groups, withdrawal on a one-to-one or small group basis and excellent employment of SNAs. A small class group with a modified curriculum may sometimes be formed in a year group in junior cycle, if the need arises and resources facilitate it. It is good to note that these students are selected based on psychological assessments, discussion with the principals and sixth class teachers in the feeder schools and on consultation and agreement with parents. Full inclusion of these students with the main student body is facilitated through the optional subjects and co- and extra-curricular activities. It was stated that the allocation of available resources is now co-coordinated more efficiently since the advent of the special educational needs organiser (SENO) in the region. This has facilitated the school in making timely applications for supports well before the students’ arrival in September. A commendable level of collaboration and communication also exists between the school and other external agencies, including NEPS.
The needs of the students inform the development and effective implementation of individual educations plans (IEPS) for those students who have had psychological assessments, and learning support plans for those whom the school, in consultation with parents, considers require extra support in order to maximise progress across the curriculum. These programmes of work are suitably differentiated to take account of individual student needs, some students having modified curricula. Appropriate resources, including the use of ICT, are effectively employed to enhance student learning. While support focuses on English in the main, assistance in the completion of project work for State examinations and currently in Geography is also provided. The school itself is mindful of the lack of a LS teacher in Mathematics. It is recommended that management address this issue. Any steps, which can be taken to rectify this, would certainly be worthwhile.
The schools’ policy on Special Needs states that Ballincollig Community School caters for “pupils with SEN in accordance with the Deed of Trust of Community Schools and the admissions policy”. It is good to note that strategies to promote inclusion include academic, pastoral and physical supports. Taking cognisance of this and to further develop the whole-school approach to SEN, it is recommended that the SEN team be afforded every opportunity to assist in providing fellow colleagues with learning opportunities to enhance their skills and devise strategies which can lead to advances in students’ attainment in reading, writing, oral communication and numeracy skills. Consideration could be given to the utilisation of in-house expertise for a whole staff professional development seminar. Indeed the SEN team is to be praised for the provision of appropriate information to the staff on an ongoing basis. The school could also investigate provision of further whole staff training through the Special Education Support Service (www.sess.ie). Formalisation of the existing links between the LS support team, the guidance counsellor and the chaplain should be considered in order to coordinate a holistic approach to SEN provision.
The school is to be commended for its commitment to implementing best practice in learning support provision.
The increasing numbers of immigrants to Ireland in recent years has resulted in ever increasing numbers of students with English as a second language (ESL) enrolling in Ballincollig Community School. Management and teachers recognise that the difficulties for these students due to lack of proficiency in English, particularly in the written language, represent particular barriers to full participation in education. Teachers also cited communication with parents and the translation of or non-availability of psychological assessments and reports as major challenges in providing appropriate education for the students. Currently there are students from a number of different nationalities attending the school.
To date, the school has endeavoured to be proactive in reducing the language barriers and in assisting the full inclusion of these students. The allocated resources are appropriately used. Commendable strategies include the formation of an SDP group focusing on the development of a policy to support the academic and social needs of these students, and the creation of a special duties post to coordinate the support for ESL students on trial basis. It is noteworthy that the coordinator has been in contact with colleagues in other schools who have successfully implemented procedures to enhance the educational attainment of such students.
Students are supported and encouraged to participate in school life. The education support team is actively involved in the support of these students. It is recommended that the school continue to develop learning and teaching approaches, which would make the curriculum more accessible to these students. For example, a strategy that the school could investigate is the development of a paired reading programme where ESL and TY students are timetabled to meet and read with each other, similar to the programme already in place for students in the local special school. Such work would further increase the language development of the ESL students and assist in creating a more inclusive atmosphere in the school. It has also been suggested that the services of the Polish clergy in Cork city might be an additional support which could be accessed from a pastoral standpoint.
Arrangements have also been put in place in some instances to improve the communication with parents. In view of the increased numbers of these parents in the community, the school has offered courses entitled “English as a Foreign Language” at a variety of levels under the adult education programme. This is commended. A means of informing parents of students in the school more directly about these courses could be investigated.
There is appropriate and effective provision and delivery of Guidance in the school. The school has a guidance allocation of 1.09 WTE, employing one fulltime guidance counsellor, the remaining two hours being allocated for Guidance purposes across a range of activities and programmes. The school will be entitled to a Guidance allocation of twenty-eight hours in the academic year beginning in September 2006. It is recommended that planning the use of these hours for Guidance purposes should be an important aspect of Guidance planning. There are many facets to the school Guidance programme, including assessment and testing, organisation of visits to open days and conferences, information nights for parents and building links with the parents, the community and other external agencies. Curriculum development, subject choice, pastoral care and counselling are among the many other areas where a valuable contribution is regularly made by the guidance counsellor in both a formal and informal capacity.
It is praiseworthy that understanding of the role of the guidance counsellor and the whole-school approach to Guidance has been augmented by the presentation given to all teachers and management in 2005. The guidance counsellor holds weekly meetings with the principal and communicates informally with teachers on an ongoing basis. A compilation of resources and schemes of work, which include timeframes, provide evidence of superb planning. It is intended that when the current SDP phase is complete, work will commence on a whole school Guidance plan. The guidance suite is resourced to a very high level.
Guidance provision is delivered through a combination of timetabled class contact, time allocated to guidance and counselling work with individual students, and to consultation with parents and other professionals when required. Guidance is timetabled for TY, sixth-year and all LCA students. In both first and third year, ad hoc classes can be taken from another subject to faciliate Guidance with this year group. A very clear, well-publicised appointment system facilitates individual student support, as does the open door policy, which is operated by the guidance counsellor. Communication to all students is commendably enhanced through the Guidance notice board, providing up to date information on all aspects of Guidance. Such contributions serve to ensure that there is a high level of provision in terms of Guidance for students in Ballincollig Community School.
The pastoral care system is very positive in the school, with a sense of caring for the students across all levels in evidence within the school. This excellent level of care for students is reflected in the important role played by class tutors, year heads, chaplain, guidance counsellor, subject teachers, learning support department, management, etc., in monitoring each student’s personal development and providing appropriate support when necessary. Central to the pastoral care system in the school is the school crisis plan. It would be worthwhile to develop an over arching pastoral care policy, naturally in keeping with the school’s ethos, to ensure that the different pastoral elements currently being worked at complement each other. The possibility of factoring a pastoral care stage, perhaps involving the guidance counsellor or chaplain, within the structure of disciplinary procedures should also be investigated. This might have the added benefit of freeing up some time for the year heads.
While each year head moves with the student cohort, thus consolidating the pastoral role associated with this position, class tutors generally change on an annual basis. The chaplain and guidance counsellor play central roles in pastoral care, providing support and counselling for students, continually liaising with the year heads. Year heads pay particular attention to academic progress, attendance, attend to disciplinary problems, encourage participation in extra- and co-curricular activities and meet parents. They also hold assembly every morning, attending to messages from parents via the journal and making general announcements. Class tutors, who act in a voluntary capacity, wholeheartedly assist the year heads in much of above. The staff of the special education needs department also play an active part in the care of those students.
The role of chaplain is integrated into the work of the pastoral care team, collaborating and working with others in the school community. Her work in ministering to students, school staff and the community is clearly defined in the chaplain’s brochure. In this, the chaplain’s mission statement sees the role having “a faith presence in the school, committed to Christian values, accompanying each individual in the school community on their journey”. Complementing the pastoral role is the spiritual role. The chaplain is very proactive in the many and varied liturgies and other religious events which take place. These include Christian meditation, year group masses, carol singing, retreats etc. The first year beginning ceremony is seen as particularly important in helping new students identify with the school. Ongoing development of the chaplaincy role in the pastoral care of students is evidenced by the proposed participation in the Meitheal and Seedlings programmes during the next academic year.
As mentioned in section 1.3, the school communicates effectively with the diversity of parents in a range of different ways, including circular letters, student reports at Christmas and summer, annual parent teacher meetings, the student journal and by appointment with any staff member at any time. The parents’ association has been in existence since the inception of the school and attendance at meetings is good. At these meetings, the principal reports and discusses school activities. The parents feel included, involved and listened to. They are fully aware of all school activities and are consulted on all major school events, including the development of school policies. They are affiliated to the national Parents’ Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, (PACCS) and are actively involved at this level, two delegates attending monthly meetings. Effective contact is maintained with the general parent body through very regular newsletters.
Students are afforded a clear voice in the school through the student council, which was established a number of years ago. The council has elected representatives from each class and has a weekly timetabled meeting during the school year, which is also attended by the liaison teacher. Currently, TY and fifth-year students, by virtue of their experience, occupy positions as officers. The council has been active in raising issues with the school principal and has managed to effect some appropriate changes. For example, the opening and running of a stationary shop, the addition of trousers to the girls’ uniform and the permission for boys to wear earrings are some of the amendments won by the student council following consultation. It is good to note that outside advice was sought by the liaison teacher during the start up phase of the student council and that representatives from the council annually attend a course on leadership. Following on from this participation, students have been nominated for Dáil na nÓg.
Effective communication is maintained with the general student body via the public address system, notice boards placed strategically around the school and the biannual student council newsletter. It is noteworthy that the general student body is encouraged to contribute via the suggestion box, which is situated near the deputy principal’s office, and through their class representatives. To augment this openness and transparency, the agenda for the next meeting and minutes of previous meetings are displayed on the student council board in the main foyer, along with other relevant information including the child line and drugs and alcohol brochures. The students involved in the council demonstrated a high level of maturity, leadership and loyalty to the school and they display an eagerness to continue to influence development. The production of a comprehensive sixth-year magazine provides a colourful history and excellent memento of the students’ progress through the school, with the support of the school’s public relations officer being a central one in this enterprise, among others.
It is highly commended that twenty-five students from Ballincollig Community School participate in the “Best Buddies Ireland” programme, forming one-to-one friendships with students in the local special school. The students are in weekly telephone contact and meet twice a month. The peer buddies find they have many of the same interests as their buddies in the special school. They feel a “strong sense of having a friend”. This is surely evidence of living the ethos of a caring school.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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.
Subject inspection reports in (i) English, (ii) Materials Technology Wood and Construction Studies, (iii) Home Economics and (iv) Guidance are appended to this report.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballincollig Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Ballincollig Community School is a co-educational school.
There are four English class groups in first year, five in second year, four in third year, three in Transition Year, three in fifth year, three in sixth year, one Leaving Certificate Applied class in fifth year and one in sixth year. Classes in first year and in year one of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme have adequate provision for English lessons. Classes in all other year groups have good provision for English lessons. In the case of two of the fifth-year classes, it is suggested that a greater spread of lessons across the week might be of benefit. This would allow for the maximum number of contact points between students and the subject to be achieved. It should be noted, however, that this suggestion is made with a recognition of the limitations which are present in any timetabling process and therefore should be viewed in the context of what is practicable. The teaching of different levels and cycles is assigned to teachers on a rotational basis. This is positive, allowing for the development of a wide skills base across the English department. Classes generally retain the same teachers between second and third year or for the duration of senior cycle. This is good practice, allowing for the use of consistent pedagogical approaches with particular class groups.
Classes in first year are of mixed ability. Second year has one top stream class, three banded classes and an ordinary level class. In third year there is one top stream class, along with two banded classes and one ordinary level class. Sometimes a small group with a modified curriculum may be formed in a junior cycle year group if the need arises and if the necessary resources are available to facilitate it. In Transition Year there is one top stream class and there are two banded classes. In each of fifth and sixth year there is one top stream class as well as two banded classes. Students are assigned to classes in second year based on the results of a common examination. Students are assigned to classes in fifth year based on their results in the Junior Certificate English examination. Parents and students are also consulted in this process. Three of the five English classes in second year are run concurrently while the remaining two classes are not timetabled concurrently with other English classes. Three of the four English classes in third year are run concurrently while one class is not timetabled concurrently with the other three. The concurrent timetabling of a number of English classes in both second and third year is good practice, facilitating flexibility and movement of students between levels in these year groups. It is reported that, should it prove necessary for a student to move from or to the classes which are not timetabled concurrently, such a need would be accommodated by the school. In Transition Year all classes are timetabled concurrently. In fifth year the two banded classes are timetabled concurrently in order to facilitate movement, while the top stream class is timetabled separately. In sixth year all classes are timetabled concurrently. This is positive.
The school has a library which is organised with the assistance of members of the parent body. This parental involvement in the life of the school is to be praised. Students have supervised access to the library at lunchtimes and teachers can also book the library for use by class groups. A number of teachers use book sets to enhance their students’ experiences of literature and some time for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) is also allocated to classes for the same purpose. This is commendable. Further areas for development with regard to the use of the library might also be investigated by the English department. Some of these might include: the occasional mounting of reading competitions for particular year or class groups; the display of peer reviews of texts in the library; student involvement in book choice and the modelling of library use by teachers. Further ideas regarding the use of the library for English might be accessed through the recent publication, Room for Reading: The Junior Certificate School Programme Demonstration Library Project which is available from the JCSP Support Services. Another online resource is www.cilip.org.uk, the website of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. The eventual inclusion of a policy regarding the use of the library in the teaching of English as part of the English subject plan would also be of benefit as a means of consolidating and building on the good practice which already exists with regard to library use in the English department.
It is reported that English teachers have good access to audio-visual equipment. This is positive, given the important role played by film in the Leaving Certificate English syllabus. In one instance, it has been suggested that the provision of a trolley as an aid to the safe movement of a television and video unit between two adjoining rooms would be of benefit. English teachers are provided with their own baserooms and this is good practice.
The school has significant ICT resources, with 300 networked computers and four computer rooms. All English teachers have access to the computer rooms as required. English teachers make use of these resources and this is to be commended. The school facilitates a ‘central resource library’ on its network on which all subject departments are provided with a folder for the storing of ICT resources. Students, in turn, may access this folder for research purposes. In the case of one second-year class, ICT is used as an aid in the analysis of television advertisements and students are also able to access the front page of various broadsheet newspapers, thus adding to the relevance and immediacy of media exercises completed in class. A number of rooms featured student displays created with the use of ICT, suggesting a recognition on the part of teachers of the powerful role ICT and, in particular, word processing packages, may play in the promotion of literacy. The use of this technology will add to students’ awareness of the need for drafting and redrafting as part of the creation of any piece of good writing. One senior cycle group of students displayed considerable expertise in utilising ICT as a tool for the creation and enhancement of a variety of genre exercises. A large bank of web resources for the teaching of English has also been developed within the department. All of these endeavours are highly commendable and it is suggested that the English department’s current practice in the area of ICT should be recorded and incorporated into the English subject plan during forthcoming department meetings. This would facilitate the retention of current good practice while simultaneously aiding the further development of the department’s ICT expertise.
The school is supportive of teachers’ continuing professional development. Teachers are made aware of any literature from the SLSS (Second Level Support Service) and are facilitated in attending in-service training courses should they wish to do so. The school is to be complimented on its approach in this area.
Higher Diploma in Education students who are to teach English are inducted into the life of the school. They are monitored by the teacher responsible for the relevant class group who discusses the material to be covered during the year with them. The teacher sits down regularly with the student teacher and may occasionally teach the class for the student teacher’s benefit. Teachers may also invite student teachers to sit in on their own English classes to observe their practice. All of this is most positive.
English teachers are involved in the organisation of a wide range of extra- and co-curricular activities. Some of these have included: a trip to Stratford for senior English students; a visit to the ‘Cork Examiner’ offices on Academy Street; a visit to ‘A View from the Bridge’ in the Gate theatre; debating and a variety of visiting speakers. The wide range of excursions to enhance students’ appreciation of theatre and cinema is particularly notable and English teachers are to be praised for their efforts in co-ordinating these worthwhile activities.
The English department has adopted a new approach to the co-ordination of the subject in the last year, with a co-ordinator being appointed for each year group. There are frequent meetings of the English department, both formally and informally, and these meetings focus on text choice, the synchronisation of texts between different levels, discussion of State examination results and the organisation of various English excursions during the year. Minutes are kept of decisions made at meetings. All of this is most positive.
The school has recently engaged in the School Development Planning process. This is commendable. The English department has begun the development of common plans for each year group. English teachers are to be praised for their efforts in this regard. There is a collaborative atmosphere between English teachers in the school. It is recommended that the English department should continue to develop the English subject plan. Typical areas which might be explored include: the extension of the existing yearly plans to incorporate common monthly plans, setting forth syllabus-based aims and objectives for each year group; departmental analysis of State examination results and uptake levels versus national norms; induction procedures for Higher Diploma in Education students, new teachers and teachers new to particular programmes in English and a list of methodologies used in the teaching of English, along with a rationale for their use. It should be emphasised that these areas should be focused on in turn in order to approach the development of the subject in a graduated, manageable way.
Teachers vary text choice at junior and senior cycle to suit class context and ability. This is most positive as such an approach serves to increase students’ engagement with the texts they are studying. Teachers are also conscientious in senior cycle with regard to the facilitation of students in changing levels, ensuring that texts are synchronised between the banded classes. It is suggested that the listing of texts used in junior and senior cycle as part of the subject plan would be of benefit as a record of what has worked well in the past with particular classes. Such a record would also be of use as a means of reassuring teachers with regard to their choice of the mandatory main text and three comparative texts which are to be studied at both levels of the Leaving Certificate syllabus. The website www.childrensbooksireland.com may also be of use to English teachers as a resource for providing information on books suitable for students’ junior cycle or Transition Year studies.
Planning for the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme in English and Communications is good and envisages the exposure of students to a wide range of different genres and literary texts. The English department has also worked on a written subject-specific programme for English within the school’s Transition Year Programme. This is positive. It is recommended that the department should continue to develop this programme. Guidance in this area may be accessed through www.transitionyear.ie, the website of the Transition Year Support Service. A pamphlet entitled Writing the Transition Year Programme is available in the teachers’ area of the site. It must be stated that the writing of such a programme should be viewed in the context of the good work already being done by English teachers in the Transition Year Programme and should be seen as a means of securing and building on this work.
The school has contacted Integrate Ireland Language and Training as an aid to meeting the language learning needs of language-support students. This is commendable. Links between the English department and the learning-support department are good and are further enhanced by the fact that the two learning-support teachers are also members of the English department. Learning-support teachers liaise with English teachers on a formal and informal basis regarding the particular needs of students in their class groups. A variety of literacy initiatives, including paired reading, are provided by the school. It is suggested that the involvement of some Transition-Year students in a paired reading programme with first-year students might be explored as a further means of enhancing younger students’ literacy skills while simultaneously increasing Transition-Year students’ awareness of their own civic responsibilities.
Overall, a very satisfactory level of teaching was seen during the inspection. Evidence of planning was presented by a number of teachers and in all classes it was clear that teachers had prepared diligently for the lesson. In one instance the teacher’s careful storage of relevant resources in a personal folder was notable. Objectives were clear in lessons and this good practice might have been further added to in some cases through the clear statement of objectives at the beginning of lessons for the benefit of students. The reiteration of these objectives at key points in the lesson would further add to the efficacy of this approach and would add to students’ awareness of their own achievements and learning at the end of the lesson. All lessons were within syllabus requirements.
A wide range of resources was used in English classes. Some of these included: the whiteboard; photocopies; television and video; ICT; a rosary beads purse and a teacher’s singing voice! The use of a purse as a visual aid in a pre-reading exercise for a Séamus Heaney poem was imaginative and worthwhile. Equally, it provided a focus for discussion and guided students towards their own personal responses to the Heaney poem in question as the lesson developed. Another imaginative approach was utilised in the study of a novel in a senior cycle class as students were expected to produce ‘photographs’ of the main character in the text. These were derived from various magazine articles and encouraged students’ awareness of key character traits and, in one instance, led to a discussion centering around the considerable distance which existed between one student’s choice and the actual character, as delineated in the text. The strategy further served as a means of bypassing some initial student reluctance to offer personal opinions on the topic. These imaginative visual resources were most beneficial and it is suggested that the English department should continue to expand its use of additional teaching resources as a means of engaging students, particularly in classes which are less motivated by purely verbal presentations.
In a number of classes teachers engaged students in vocabulary exercises. The use of a dictionary and thesaurus would have added to the effectiveness of such strategies, allowing teachers to place more responsibility on students for the production of knowledge while also serving to familiarise them with the skills needed in the utilisation of such texts. Consequently, it is recommended that the school should investigate the possibility of purchasing sets of five or six dictionaries and thesauruses for English teachers to distribute in classes when appropriate. This strategy might be further expanded to include the purchase of a set of learner dictionaries for use by language-support students.
Teachers began classes in a number of different ways. In a number of instances this involved calling the class roll, a positive tactic to encourage students to settle into a working frame of mind. The reading of homework by teachers was also utilised for this purpose, and again, this was worthwhile. In the case of one lesson a great emphasis was placed on the pride felt in students’ achievements during the course of the year and on expressing confidence in their ability to achieve well in the various challenges that life held in store for them over the coming years. This was most encouraging for the students and was very good practice.
Reading in class was encouraged. Students read from texts in a number of instances and in one lesson a teacher modelled reading for students. This was sound practice. In one senior cycle class, students’ reading of an examination paper was aided through clear instructions regarding examination technique being repeated during the course of the lesson, the teacher thus displaying an awareness of the particular needs of this set of students. In the case of another class, the reading of a comprehension piece was interspersed with exhortations to students to highlight key aspects of language that were being encountered. Again, this was good practice.
Questioning was used in a number of classes and teachers were conscious of the need to ensure a wide distribution of questions across class groups. In a number of instances teachers sought evidence in support of students’ answers. On occasion, the use of a greater number of higher order questions might have been of benefit in the exploration of language. In some classes, a greater use of directed rather than global questions would have served to enhance students’ participation in lessons.
Students were encouraged to write in classes in a number of instances. In one lesson, this was especially notable as the teacher gradually developed vocabulary, focusing on keywords and adjectives encountered in the text, to enable students to create a sense of the circumstances of the character they were studying. While a move to pair-work might have encouraged greater differentiation in this context, this approach was very positive, acknowledging the needs of the particular group of students involved. It also suggested an integrated approach to the language and literature elements of the syllabus which was very beneficial to students. It should be stated that there was frequently a good emphasis on language in English classes.
Where group-work was used it was handled with great skill and expertise. Its use in a senior cycle class in the study of a number of comparative texts increased students’ engagement enormously and students showed an awareness of their responsibilities by producing work from this approach. However, in general, pair and group-work were not used widely in the teaching of English. It is recommended that the English department increase its use of pair and group-work in the teaching of English as an aid to differentiation and independent learning.
Where students were most engaged and focused in lessons this was expressed in a number of ways. In one class, students answered questions and showed a clear willingness to engage with the text in question. In another instance students responded to a teacher’s directions regarding text-marking and moved to engage in spontaneous note-taking at times. On another occasion great awareness was shown of the specific needs of students and they responded by engaging diligently in the written exercises which had been set for them. In another class the teacher encouraged and legitimised student responses most appropriately. In the few instances where students were less focused, a greater emphasis on the use of the whiteboard as a centre around which to build student learning might have been of benefit. Another potentially lucrative strategy in this regard might be the highlighting of connections between in-class activities and anticipated homework exercises. A good relationship between teachers and students was evident in classes and humour was frequently used as a potent classroom management tool. This was most positive. In a number of instances the quiet, respectful authority of teachers in managing their classrooms was most impressive.
English classrooms were bright, neat and well kept, with teachers storing their resources carefully in their baserooms. Students were comfortably seated and seating arrangements were well organised, although in one instance the potential for more traditional classroom seating, rather than seating students ‘in the round’ might have been further explored. It should be stated, however, that this comment is made in the context of a particular class group and it is acknowledged that a variety of approaches with regard to seating had previously been experimented with before the current arrangement was decided upon. A number of English classrooms featured print-rich and, in one instance, text-rich environments. Students’ displays were in evidence and, in one senior cycle classroom the emphasis placed on students’ achievements was most impressive. Here, students’ exercises created using ICT were prominently displayed alongside assignments completed during the year, motivational posters and class sets of novels. Other rooms featured bright displays of student projects completed during the year. English teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this aspect of their practice which will not only enhance students’ self-esteem but will also provide a powerful visual resource to aid teaching in English classrooms. Ideas for the further development of the print-rich environment in English classrooms might include keyword displays and character diagrams. Teachers are to be highly commended for their work in creating an ‘English atmosphere’ in their baserooms.
Homework was regularly assigned and corrected in English classes. Homework copies were well organised and, in one senior cycle class, most impressive care was taken of student folders, with significant banks of resources having been built up for students to study during the period preceding the State examinations. Generally, formative, comment-based marking was used. This was positive and teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this practice where possible. In a number of classes, teachers corrected homework orally at the beginning of lessons. This allowed for immediate feedback to students which consisted of very affirming, constructive commentaries on their work. The potential for students to engage in different forms of peer- correction might also be investigated by English teachers. Such an approach would focus students on the importance of accuracy of expression in their work while also highlighting the importance of audience in the completion of any piece of writing. In a number of instances the use of an integrated approach towards the language and literature elements of the syllabus was evident in teachers’ planning and students’ homework. This was sound practice, allowing texts to operate as ‘springboards’ from which students can develop the language skills which the syllabus demands. The English department is encouraged to continue with this practice as a key methodology in the teaching of English. In one class students were given the opportunity to begin their homework before the end of the lesson. This was appropriate, given the particular class context involved, and suggested an assessment for learning approach to homework which was very worthwhile. English teachers are referred to the Assessment for Learning area of the NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) website, www.ncca.ie, as a potentially lucrative resource with which to inform the department’s approach to homework and assessment.
There are formal house examinations at Christmas and summer, along with midterm class-based assessments. Mock examinations are also held for those students who will participate in the State Examinations in June. Teachers set common papers for house examinations where it is appropriate to do so. Common marking schemes are used in the correction of these papers. This is most positive, allowing for a clear picture to emerge with regard to individual student’s achievement in comparison with the entire student cohort in a year group. Teachers are encouraged to continue with and expand this practice where possible, perhaps employing a common examination component for those classes that might not benefit from sharing a complete examination paper in common with their year group.
The school holds a parent-teacher meeting once a year for each year group. Parents and guardians are also able to arrange individual appointments with teachers should the need arise. Parents and guardians receive a report outlining students’ progress at Christmas and summer of each year. All of these arrangements are positive.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballincollig Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Construction Studies (CS) and Materials Technology (Wood) (MTW) and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over one day during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Ballincollig Community School provides a broad education for young people in Ballincollig and the surrounding area. In the technologies, the range of subjects offered includes Technical Graphics, Technical Drawing, Metalwork and Engineering as well as MTW and CS, the focus of this subject inspection report. The school is commended for providing its students with the opportunity to study this broad range of technology subjects.
The teachers of CS and MTW meet formally at the beginning of term and informally when necessary to plan for the materials and equipment needed to follow the programmes they have set out for the year. It is the practice for management to provide what is required at the behest of the teachers. Management is commended for providing, in a timely and efficient manner, equipment and materials to facilitate the teaching of CS and MTW. It is suggested that thought should be given to the provision of a budget for the purchase of items of recurring annual expenditure, such as class materials, consumables and breakables. It is felt that the subject teaching team could exercise its responsibility, practice discretion and reap the reward by having the flexibility to purchase small items of equipment from the savings made by careful planning for the spending of such a budget. It is not envisaged that items of capital expenditure would be included in this budget.
There are two teachers of MTW and CS in the school who also teach Technical Graphics or Technical Drawing. The burden of project work is evenly distributed in the current school year with one teacher taking charge of the Junior Certificate (JC) class and the other the Leaving Certificate (LC). This is good practice.
In first year, all students study MTW together with each of the other option subjects in the junior cycle. MTW is allocated two periods in a double class which takes place each eighth school day. Considering that students benefit from the complementary experience of two other technology subjects, Technical Graphics and Metalwork, there is ample compensation for the reduced time allocated to MTW in first year. Students expressed support for the arrangement which supports them in their decision-making around subject options for Junior Certificate. The school is commended for providing this support. In second and third year, four periods per week are allocated to MTW, arranged suitably in double and single-period classes. This allocation is adequate to allow the respective syllabuses to be taught effectively. Management is commended for this and is similarly commended for the allocation of four periods per week to CS in Transition Year (TY) and five in fifth and sixth year.
There are two wood workshops in the school both of which have access to a shared wood machining and preparation area. The separating walls are partially glazed. The workshops are bright and welcoming and suitably supplied with a full range and complement of hand tools for student use.
While the space provided for stacking materials in the preparation area is limited, there is a large storage shed where these can be stacked convenient to its back entrance. It is advised that this shed, which is shared with other subjects, be used to store materials which are not to be used immediately. Particular care should be taken to stack materials awaiting use in the preparation area with care and attention to safety.
The shortage of suitable storage space for student project work is a cause of concern. There were finished projects standing within the workshops where they were taking up space and making cleaning of the work area more difficult. The school is urged to arrange suitable storage for finished projects outside the workshops. This is a particular requirement for projects involved in the State Examinations Commission assessment of Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate coursework which must be securely stored until they can be released to the candidates following the period set aside for the appeals process. The storage of current student work is also problematic. Ideally this needs to be kept in the workshops where it can be easily and quickly retrieved at the beginning of class while being safely stored between classes. There is a need for storage presses of adequate capacity for this purpose. The school is encouraged to seek to have sufficient additional storage presses provided in both workshops to allow student work to be stored safely and securely, to reduce clutter and to make regular cleaning easier.
It was noticeable on the day of the inspection that the workshops and wood machining and preparation area were dusty. Fine dust had settled on the floor and on all other horizontal surfaces. These surfaces need regular cleaning to remove this dust. To facilitate this, as well as for other safety and aesthetic reasons, it is recommended that all worktops, shelves and horizontal surfaces be kept clear of all unnecessary items, that all off-cuts of wood, uncollected student projects and any other items not being used for display purposes be removed from the workshops and wood machining and preparation area. These should be disposed of in an environmentally acceptable way and cleaning schedules should be devised, including involvement of students at the end of class where possible, to maintain a clean working environment.
Dust control in the wood machining and preparation room is by means of stand-alone dust extraction units. The units provided for use with the planer and table saw are of limited capacity and require regular emptying, causing the re-dispersal of some of the captured dust. It is clear that the current arrangements for the extraction and control of dust are less than fully effective. Ballincollig Community School is urged to investigate the dust-related hazards and the improvement of the dust extraction arrangements in the workshop areas. It is to be expected that solutions to the problems being experienced will consist of improved dust control at source combined with an improved cleaning regime to remove any dust, which has escaped into the workshop environment.
In one of the classes visited students were applying a varnish finish to their projects. While the students worked carefully and methodically it was regrettable that a sink was not available in the workshop to allow them to clean the brushes and wash their hands on completion. The continued use of suitable water-based finishes and glues is encouraged and it is recommended as a matter of urgency that a sink be provided in each workshop to facilitate the use of water-based wood glues and finishes, proper care of equipment and washing of hands.
In addition to the creation and maintenance of a safe working environment for all users of the workshops and the wood machining and preparation room, there is an added responsibility to make students aware of the huge importance of safe work procedures and practices. Particularly in light of this, it is recommended where appropriate that additional safety signage be erected in the workshops, specifically adjacent to each machine, whether reserved for teacher use or also used by students. Such signage should cover the main safe operating procedures and control measures for the particular machine. It should impart information in a standardised format on an ongoing basis. EU standard signage (Safety Signs Directive (92/58/EEC)) may be used, for example to indicate a requirement for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as eye protection. This should be supplemented by prominently displayed instructions, workshop safety rules and rules of behaviour. These may be word processed, printed and laminated for durability.
It is recommended in addition that the floor markings for safe operational areas around machines in one of the workshops be reinstated, where made necessary by the dislodgement of the tape used. It is highly desirable that every opportunity is taken to make students aware of the concept of using safe operational areas to control hazards. To this end it is advised that notices be placed in the vicinity of each, reminding all users of the correct procedures involved. The subject teaching team is reminded that students should not be allowed to operate machinery such as the pedestal drill jointly.
There are six personal computers (PCs) provided in each of the wood workshops. These are connected to the school’s local area network through which they share broadband Internet access. In the absence of protective computer cabinets, which would be the preferred solution to the problem of dust ingress, it is advised that the PCs be fitted with protective covers when not in use. Particular care should be taken to keep the area around them free of dust, in as far as this is possible. There is also access on request to the school’s computer suites which run suitable general application and computer aided design/draughting (CAD) software. The provision of this level of support for ICT is commended and its full use by the MTW and CS teaching team is earnestly encouraged.
The MTW and CS teaching team identifies a subject coordinator at the beginning of each school year, at which stage there is a formal planning meeting for the subjects. Meetings throughout the rest of the year are on an informal basis as the need arises. The focus of planning meetings is usually on devising a plan of what it is hoped to achieve with each class in the course of the year and determining the materials and equipment requirements for this. Other concerns of planning meetings have included difficulties with dust extraction, the absence of sinks in the workshops or wood machining and preparation area and the shortage of adequate storage for student work. Subject planning is reviewed on an informal basis. The subject teaching team has, over a number of years, been involved in collaborative planning, with teachers of Art and Engineering, for Form and Fusion, an annual event originated in Ballincollig Community School for which Transition Year students produce art and craft work in various materials. The cross-curricular planning and teaching involved in this is commended, as is the subject planning already described. The subject teaching team is urged to continue the good planning practice involved while increasing the level of joint collaborative programme planning and broadening the focus of planning to include not just what is to be taught but also how it is best taught. As part of the School Development Planning Initiative, developments in subject department planning may provide opportunities for collaborative planning for innovation in teaching methodologies and strategies. The subject teaching team is urged to take full advantage of such opportunities as they present themselves.
When undertaking programme planning at junior cycle, the subject teaching team is urged to give prominence to the central place of the design process in the MTW syllabus which states: “The major portion of student work will be expressed through individual and group projects.” Later, referring to the process of design, it states: “This process is seen as the basis for all project work undertaken by the pupils.” Bearing this in mind the MTW teaching team is urged to ensure that the realisation of student design work remains the focus of practical work. To aid students in developing the necessary design process skills it is often desirable to provide them with extra support. This may be achieved by supplying them with teacher-prepared worksheets suitable for their needs in the form of a booklet. The booklet can guide students through the process as they insert the required notes and sketches and may avoid the frustration sometimes experienced when faced with a blank sheet. It is recommended that the MTW teaching team investigate the possibility of using teacher-prepared design booklets in particular when introducing students experiencing difficulty with learning to the design process.
Mid way through first year and third year the process of subject choice for, respectively, Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate begins in classes with the guidance counsellor. Towards the end of the second term, the parents of the students involved are invited to an evening meeting with senior management to provide them with information and support for subject choice. The parents of third-year students are also informed about the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and TY programmes at this stage. Following initial choices, made by students towards the end of the third term, subject option blocks are devised to provide the greatest number of students with the opportunity to study their chosen subjects. The school is commended for giving priority to student choice in the design of subject option groups for each year cohort in junior cycle and senior cycle.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has become so central to our lives, in society in general and in the technologies in particular, that it is essential that every opportunity be taken to support students in becoming skilled in its use. Students in Ballincollig Community School use computers to word process their design folios and this is commended. It is recommended however that ICT be used much more extensively in the teaching of MTW and CS. The use of CAD for project work is particularly valuable and students should be enabled and encouraged to incorporate it in their design folios. This may be achieved by means of the computers in the wood workshops during practical classes, when individual students may be encouraged to work on drawings, and through access to the school’s computer rooms which may be used for more formal teaching of whole classes. It is recommended that CAD be introduced in project design work for the production of simple drawings from first year. It is advisable that this development within MTW and CS, and its implications for timetabling, continuing professional development and use of resources form part of subject planning.
The approach taken to teaching the predominantly practical lessons visited involved a combination of teacher demonstration to groups of students, particularly in junior cycle classes, and individual demonstration, explanation and eliciting of solutions through careful questioning with students involved in the realisation of a range of design projects in senior cycle classes. These approaches were suitable to the needs of the students and resulted in effective student learning. Practical lessons were generally carefully structured and paced. The purpose of individual lessons was at all times clear and students knew what they were expected to achieve. The subject teaching team is commended for the planning of the lessons visited, which were predominantly carefully structured and well-ordered. Students quickly and efficiently retrieved their work at the beginning of class and returned it to its storage place at the end. This was indicative of the students’ familiarity with and acceptance of the clear classroom procedures commendably developed and maintained by the subject teaching team.
While practical lessons tend to follow a predictable pattern, with variety being provided by the particular skills and processes being practiced by the students, theory lessons often require a greater degree of planning and the deployment of a wider range of teaching strategies for success. It may be advisable to provide variety through the use of group activities, individual and group student presentation and a range of questioning techniques to encourage student activity, involvement and learning at a high level. In order to ensure that student learning is facilitated in theory lessons, the subject teaching team is urged to plan lessons carefully and seek in particular to provide variety through the use of a wide range of teaching strategies and questioning techniques. The subject teaching team is further urged, by sharing their individual experiences of successful innovation and otherwise, to investigate the broadening of the range of teaching strategies being adopted in particular in theory classes. This will best be undertaken as part of subject department planning.
The atmosphere in the classes visited was pleasant, positive and conducive to learning. The students cooperated with their teachers and their fellow students and applied themselves to the tasks in hand. Discipline, while always present, was unobtrusive and unforced. The MTW and CS teaching team is commended for nurturing an atmosphere of security and mutual respect between students and teachers which was at all times present in the classes visited. The teaching team’s commendable, regular affirmation of student effort and success in the lessons visited did much to preserve an atmosphere conducive to learning.
A stimulating environment does much to encourage learning. It is commended that examples of student work were prominently displayed in the workshops providing students with encouragement to emulate the success of their peers. In order to take fuller advantage of this, the MTW and CS teaching team is urged to increase the amount of student work on display, perhaps by displaying a chosen piece from each completed project as a reward. It is encouraged that more subject-related materials be displayed on the walls of the workshops. These materials could range from student-produced posters and displays to commercially produced instructional materials.
It was clear from interaction with students in the course of the inspection that they were developing knowledge and understanding of the work in which they were engaged. They had in general reached an acceptable level of skill in woodwork and showed a good understanding of concepts and facts. Given the central position of the process of design in the syllabus, the team of teachers of MTW is urged to ensure that this is given full expression in the programme of study in each year in junior cycle.
In Ballincollig Community School there are formal examinations in MTW and CS at Christmas and summer as part of the school examinations. In addition to these, student project work is assessed on completion in the course of the year and the teachers of the subjects record and retain these assessments. The use of regular assessment of students’ work both informally to affirm and encourage sustained effort and more formally to record progress is commended. Student assessment marks are not combined with the formal examination marks. It is desirable, in general, to adopt modes of in-school assessment similar to those adopted in State examinations. Hence it is recommended that the marks generated by the assessment of completed student project work be aggregated with the Christmas and summer examination marks. The subject teaching team is urged to adopt a common agreed policy with regard to the assessment of both MTW and CS. It is suggested, when agreeing on an assessment policy, that the design element of student project work in MTW be given an importance in keeping with the central place of design in the syllabus.
In order to further encourage and motivate students, it is suggested that they be kept continuously aware of their progress, and its likely effect on their end-of-term result, as assessments are regularly recorded. It is advisable to use the assessment in the first instance as a student-centred means of affirming effort and achievement. The use of regular assessment in this way provides a meaningful frame of reference for students. They are empowered to track their own success and to work towards attainable goals.
In addition to the assessment of completed work the teachers of MTW and CS constantly monitor students’ work in class as it progresses. In the classes visited, affirmation of work being successfully completed was regularly given to the students as the teachers moved around the rooms. This practice is commended.
In general the subject teaching team recorded student results systematically. Parents are kept informed of students’ progress by means of the student journal, reports of examination results and through parent-teacher meetings. This good practice acts to support the partnership of parents and teachers in the education of the students.
In the classes visited in the course of the inspection, students were generally fully engaged with the work they undertook. They displayed knowledge and skills that were consistent with their full involvement. They were enthusiastic and ambitious to achieve. Work was undertaken that was appropriate to student ability and suitably challenging to maintain interest. The practical work encountered in the classes visited was generally of a high standard.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development 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 teachers of Materials Technology (Wood) and Construction Studies and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Ballincollig Community School. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed subject planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers.
Home Economics has a strong profile in Ballincollig Community School and is noted as a very vibrant subject. It is well established on the school’s curriculum, is an extremely popular subject choice amongst the student cohort, particularly in junior cycle. It is an optional subject in both junior and senior cycle, with the exception of first year where, very commendably, all students are required to study the subject for the entire year. The department has also designed and implemented an optional, modular food craft unit which is offered to students in Transition Year (TY). Students opting to study the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme have the option of choosing the Hotel, Catering & Tourism vocational specialism, which is also facilitated by the Home Economics department.
The very healthy uptake levels observed in the subject in junior cycle are most impressive, with quite a substantial percentage of students opting to study the subject for the Junior Certificate examination. While uptake levels in senior cycle are not as strong, nevertheless the subject’s high profile remains constant. It is also very good to note that a significant number of boys opt to study Home Economics at both levels. The Hotel, Catering and Tourism specialism is also a particularly popular choice amongst LCA students in the school.
Students, and parents alike, are very well supported by the school with regard to subject choice, both prior to students’ entry to second year and again before proceeding to TY. The system that is in place in the school, whereby option blocks are generated from the student survey with the intention of providing for optimum student satisfaction, is recognised as being especially just and fair. This very student-centred approach to subject choice is also to be commended for practically guaranteeing unrestricted student access to all choice subjects, including Home Economics. Students of the subject are very much encouraged to aim for high academic standards and so are invited and challenged by their teachers to prepare for the higher level paper in both of the State examinations, a fact that is substantiated by the large percentage of students who do so with a notable degree of success.
There is excellent provision for Home Economics in the school and a high level of support for the subject is also observed. Time-tabling is very favourable, the three-room department is spacious and well equipped, the subject is exceedingly well resourced and requests for additional resources are considered auspiciously by management. In addition the department has been provided with direct access to a very impressive collection of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), including a bank of twelve networked computers and a recently-acquired room-based data projector. When allocating teachers to particular classes, management strives to ensure that teachers retain their assigned class groups in junior cycle and also in senior cycle. Management’s very obvious support for the wide range of co-curricular and extra curricular activities undertaken by the Home Economics department in the delivery of both curricula, is also very creditable. The department is also well supported by established school structures, systems and strategies when providing for students with special educational needs (SENs).
Management is supportive of the concept and practice of collaborative subject planning, as evidenced by the provision of some time for the purpose of subject department planning at the beginning of each school year. The department’s work in this area benefits from the appointment of a subject co-ordinator, who holds the position on a rotational basis. As a means of further supporting teachers in this essential work, it is recommended that consideration be given by management to the provision of additional time throughout the school year and as the year draws to a close, for this very important departmental task.
The recently-completed health and safety risk assessment of the department’s facilities, which was very commendably completed in consultation with the subject teachers, is a praiseworthy initiative. In order to promote awareness of and adherence to the findings of the audit, it is recommended that the results of the audit be housed in the subject-specific folder and that they also be displayed in a prominent location in each of the relevant rooms. The findings of same should also be interpreted, as required, for inclusion in the kitchen rules which are clearly displayed in each of the kitchens.
The Home Economics department has adopted a very professional approach to collaborative subject planning, which they embrace openly and ardently. The team, in the very truest sense of the word, is highly committed, extremely enthusiastic and is constantly seeking ways to develop curriculum delivery and enhance students’ experience of the subject. Teachers meet informally, often on a daily basis. There is evidence of a very generous sharing of opinion, knowledge and experience around the area of curriculum delivery. It is very positive to note that this is as significant a part of the collaborative process, as are the discussions which will naturally arise with regard to the logistics surrounding the teaching of all subjects of a more practical nature, such as Home Economics. The teachers deserve much recognition for their approach to this whole area, which is exemplary in nature. As a means of recording such a meritorious approach, it is recommended that the department consider the provision of an agenda for any formal meeting convened and that all key decisions taken, both on a formal and informal basis, be minuted and filed for future reference and reflection.
The Home Economics department is progressing well in the development of a very comprehensive subject-specific planning document. It is good to note that the document reflects the approach highlighted by the Home Economics Support Service, whilst also including areas particularly relevant to the school in question. One section of the document for example, focuses on planning for a culturally-diverse society. The initiative taken by the department members here is indicative of the dynamic and progressive nature of their overall approach to their work.
Programmes of work, which set out clearly the topics to be covered on a term-by-term basis, have been devised for each of the year groups. This practice is very creditable but it is recommended that such programmes be developed in time to include provision for the following: suitable methodologies, available resources, topic specific assignments and homework, assessment modes, links between theory and practical work, integration of subject matter, as well as exam preparation and revision, when and where appropriate. This is quite an involved process and so it is recommended that it be implemented on a phased basis taking, for example, one junior and one senior year group per annum. Course syllabuses and ‘Guidelines for Teachers’ should provide the basis for such detailed planning. Such plans, as is current practice in the department, should be monitored, reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis. Furthermore, with regard to the textile area of the Junior Certificate course, it is recommended that planning for the provision of this part of the course be reviewed.
The department is committed to planning for the provision of a range of co-curricular, subject- relevant activities which not only span the school year but are targeted at a cross section of class groups. Such planning is worthy of much praise and credit as it broadens students’ knowledge and contributes to their experience and enjoyment of the subject. Excellent planning for both the provision and incorporation of ICTs was observed in the Home Economics department. A very extensive collection of shared resources, intended to provide teachers and students alike with a wealth of additional information, have been accumulated and are utilised by the department.
There was evidence of very good quality short term planning and preparation, both in the lessons observed and in the documentation that was reviewed. Teaching was also consistent with planned programmes of work. Lesson delivery was enhanced and student learning was augmented through the inclusion of a wide range of carefully prepared and selected resources, including: acetates, posters, samples, handouts, worksheets, word-banks and quizzes. This approach resulted in some extremely impressive outcomes in both teaching and learning. Lessons were planned to ensure a continuity and progression in work, as well as careful sequencing of topic delivery and suitable pacing of the administration of lesson content. Planned work, along with its delivery, was also suitably challenging for students’ levels and abilities.
A very high standard of teaching was apparent over the course of the inspection and there was evidence of effective learning amongst students. Teachers are deserving of the title ‘masters of their subject’, a claim supported by the fact that in the majority of lessons visited there was a most impressive non-reliance on the textbook. The very good practice of clearly identifying and sharing with students the purpose of the lesson, was clearly discernible in all circumstances. Teacher instruction was clear and concise and significant efforts were made at contextualising lesson content in order to strengthen student understanding and learning of the topic being explored. The desirable practice of identifying links between the topic being presented and other areas of the Home Economics’ syllabuses is very obviously recognised by teachers as the most effective and efficient way of teaching the course and of consolidating student learning. The whiteboard was used to great effect in each of the lessons for highlighting key points, explaining difficult concepts and assisting students in the practice of note-taking and note-making. There is also much evidence to suggest that ICT is regularly used to support and enhance teaching and learning in the subject.
The majority of lessons observed were very student-centred in both approach and delivery. In most cases students were constantly required to actively participate in lesson content through the inclusion of a selection of the more active methodologies, for example, brainstorming, discussions, pair work & quizzes, to name but a few. Such an approach is welcomed and fully encouraged in the delivery of curriculum content at all levels. These methodologies change learning from being a predominantly passive activity to being more active and allow for the sharing of ideas, the expression of opinions, the development of critical thinking skills and the personalisation of the lesson content. Active learning also encourages independent and collaborative learning, which are key foci of both Home Economics syllabuses.
Questioning was a strategy that was used most effectively in all lessons visited. Students were questioned over the course of each lesson in order to establish links between students’ prior knowledge and new information being presented, to establish the degree of student understanding of the new topic and to initiate student involvement in the lesson. In some cases, the inclusion of higher order style questions was very evident. This approach is very commendable, as it succeeds in assisting students’ understanding and learning of a topic by making them apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information in addition to simply recalling facts presented to them. Students’ responses to the questions illustrated an admirable level of knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and their contribution in general was indicative of a substantial engagement with classroom activity and a growing enthusiasm and curiosity for Home Economics. In circumstances where students had difficulty in answering the question posed or where they might have misinterpreted a question, teachers were very adept at subtly prompting and gently encouraging the correct answer or interpretation from students without causing embarrassment or making them feel uncomfortable.
The practical lessons were delivered in a style that encouraged the development of students’ culinary skills as well as their knowledge and appreciation of food. The principles and processes of cooking were thoroughly explained and students were assisted in the application of such knowledge over the course of the lessons through a combination of whole-class instruction, on-spot demonstrations and individual one-to-one instruction. Constant references were made to the related theory which was previously covered with the students. Independent student activity and assisted yet self-directed learning were encouraged by the teachers when at all feasible. In one instance, students were invited to incorporate some extra, more unusual ingredients into the dishes they were preparing and this is an excellent way of encouraging students to be more adventurous with food as well as exposing them to new ideas and alternative flavours. Students themselves were highly organised and quite knowledgeable about both the task at hand and the related and relevant theory. Students also demonstrated a keen awareness of hygiene, safety, good practice and teacher instruction. It was good to see that some very beneficial evaluative exercises were an integral part of the practical classes observed. The introduction of the design brief in second year, in tandem with the tasks of previous Junior Certificate examinations, is a very effective way of preparing students for their practical examination in third year and so is deserving of much recognition and praise.
Activities were well planned and carefully structured. Student participation, which was very forthcoming, was managed very effectively. Each of the subject rooms was bright, attractive and highly organised. The walls were enhanced by an array of relevant posters and thought- provoking syllabus-inspired displays. The nature of the interaction between teachers and students was very positive. Teachers, whilst being firm and purposeful with regard to the intended outcomes for the lesson, were very caring and considerate in their communications with students. The very easy, natural incorporation of anecdotes, subtle humour and ‘did-you-know’ style snippets of information by teachers, was appreciated and enjoyed by students and contributed significantly to the wonderful atmosphere that prevailed and to students’ learning. Students were eager to contribute in class and their input was greatly encouraged, warmly welcomed and readily affirmed.
In conclusion, the quality of teaching observed during this inspection was excellent and certainly conducive to optimum learning by students.
The Home Economics department utilises a formidable range of assessment modes when determining student progress and achievement in the subject. Students are assessed orally as part of every lesson, are required to complete written assessments at the conclusion of a chapter or topic and also submit projects and journal work for assessment. Students’ practical work is also formally assessed over the course of the school year, in first, second and third year. In addition students are required to take formal house examinations twice yearly, at Christmas and again prior to the summer vacation. The recommended practice of incorporating the outcomes of students’ continuous assessment into the overall grade awarded to students at key times during the school year, is established practice in the department. Such an approach is laudable as it reflects the assessment objectives of the syllabuses whilst providing a more accurate indicator of students’ actual progress in the subject. As a means of enhancing the approach taken by the department in the delivery of agreed programmes of work, it is recommended that for house examinations, consideration be given to providing students of the same year group with common assessment papers or at minimum, papers which have elements in common.
Assessment results are systematically recorded and filed by teachers. The outcomes are communicated to parents and guardians through the issuing of school reports following completion of the bi-annual house examinations and through the parent-teacher meetings which take place once per annum for each year group. The student journal also offers another mechanism through which teachers and parents can communicate and monitor student progress, application and achievement.
A subject-specific homework policy has been formulated for Home Economics, which is very commendable. This could be developed in time to include provision for the determined requirements of individual year groups. There is an established pattern of setting and monitoring homework, which is intended to expand and develop on work completed in class. In the monitoring of this work, some excellent examples of comment-only marking were apparent. This method reflects the principles espoused by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in an approach it is advocating, referred to as assessment for learning (AFL). This assessment mode is greatly encouraged and so further information on this approach can be accessed on the NCCA’s website at www.ncca.ie. In addition however, it is recommended that periodically and particularly in examination classes, student homework also be marked and graded. This provides students with another mechanism for evaluating their own progress and achievement in the subject whilst also providing teachers with a means of comparing work completed in school with that which is completed at home.
The project work presented by a cross section of students from third year, TY and LCA was completed to a very high standard. It was good to see that ICT was well-utilised in the preparation, organisation and presentation of this work.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Home Economics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
This Subject Inspection report
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Guidance. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Guidance and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and guidance counsellor.
From the perspective of Guidance, Ballincollig Community School is at a most interesting stage; the school is one of the first on the model of Public Private Partnerships, the building is new, the principal and deputy principal are qualified guidance counsellors, enrolment is rising and the facilities for Guidance are excellent. The Guidance suite is centrally, but unobtrusively, located and comprises an office, also used as a counselling room, a group-work room and a large classroom. The technology in all rooms is ‘state-of-the-art’. The office is equipped with a networked telephone with internal and external call capability, broadband Internet access and a printer. Six broadband-enabled computers have been installed in the classroom and are complemented by a library of books, catalogues, prospectuses and other literature. The rooms are lavishly decorated with Guidance-related materials and student work and it is obvious that the skilful and creative management of the resources have had a beneficial effect on that work. Posters, notices and competition details are also displayed on boards throughout the school.
The school building is on two levels and is very well maintained. The contribution of non-teaching staff to the positive atmosphere in the school and to the promotion of responsible behaviour in collaboration with teaching staff is evident in the cleanliness of the building, even after busy lunch-times, and in their discreet and astute involvement in student care. Items of student art enhance the corridors and contribute to the impression of activity and pride in the school.
The school is currently entitled to a Guidance allocation of twenty-four hours according to the criteria of Circular PPT12/05. Twenty-two of those hours are used in the employment of a qualified guidance counsellor. The remaining two hours have been used for Guidance purposes across a range of activities and programmes such as study sessions for most classes, the co-ordination of pastoral activities and in policy development. The school will be entitled to a Guidance allocation of twenty-eight hours in the academic year beginning in September 2006. It is recommended that planning the use of these hours for Guidance purposes should be an important aspect of Guidance planning proposed below.
Although whole-school Guidance planning has not yet reached the initial, school-review stage, most of the elements of a good programme are in place. Well co-ordinated programmes of Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), learning support and Religious Education are being implemented in addition to targeted interventions of the Guidance department at critical transitional stages such as entry to secondary school, transfer from junior cycle to senior cycle and progression to third level and vocational training. The formal support structure of class tutors and year heads is also in place.
All sixth- and fifth-year classes are timetabled for one class per week of Guidance. Inputs at other times into senior- and junior-cycle classes are arranged in consultation with teachers and are focused on issues related to major events and transitions such as examination preparation and study, programme and subject choice. The Guidance department has produced an excellent plan and programme. Communication with parents is ongoing and regular, both by means of notices given to students and by invitations to consult which are issued at information evenings. Documentation of the procedures and processes has been meticulous and the programme of the guidance counsellor is in keeping with policies outlined in the recent Inspectorate document on appropriate guidance. The programme includes visits to third-year and to senior-cycle classes by representatives of training and third-level institutions and visits by students to events, such as open days, organised by those organisations and by the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. Practice interviews for senior students are arranged in collaboration with the Parents’ Association. The regular self-evaluation of this, and of all other aspects of the programme of the Guidance department, is highly commended.
Counselling is available to students at all levels. Students are referred to the guidance counsellor by staff, particularly through the pastoral structure of class teachers and year heads, and by self-referral. An open-door policy is favoured in the arrangement of appointments and the approach to counselling is person-centred. Each year the school co-operates with University College, Cork in the provision of supervised placement of a student of the Masters in Counselling Psychology programme. The availability of these students for counselling referrals is considered to be a valuable resource. Referrals by the guidance counsellor to outside agencies, such as the National Educational Psychological Service, are made in consultation with parents and senior management as the need arises and in keeping with the principles of confidentiality.
Other supports for students include the chaplaincy and learning support which includes the services of two special needs assistants. An important element in ensuring adequate communication of student referral needs is the guidance counsellor’s attendance at middle-management meetings.
The transition from primary to secondary school is managed by the principal and year head with inputs from the guidance counsellor, learning-support teachers, chaplain and class tutors. The process begins in October of sixth class with an open evening followed by registration in December. General ability and competence in English are assessed for monitoring purposes in the spring by the guidance counsellor and by the learning-support teachers respectively. Classes in first year are of mixed ability and co-educational. A series of induction sessions are organised for the initial days of the school year during which those with responsibility for the organisation and care of the year group are introduced to students. The induction process continues through the autumn term in Social, Personal and Health Education, Religious Education and Civic, Social and Political Education classes and, for those with special needs, by the learning-support department in consultation with the external special education needs organiser (SENO). The student council was preceded by the Meitheal leadership programme and the council is commended for considering its reintroduction. Among the possible functions of Meitheal members would be those of mentors to first-year students.
Optional subjects for Junior Certificate examinations are chosen in the spring of first year during which all offered subjects are studied. Information sessions on subject choice are arranged by the guidance counsellor for first- and third-year classes with the co-operation of subject teachers. Information evenings are also arranged for parents. The deputy principal manages the options process. The range of subject options is based on polled student preferences and every effort is made to match preference and available subjects. Parents of first- and third-year students are invited to meet the guidance counsellor to discuss progress, options and aspirations. Leaving Certificate subjects, in addition to Gaeilge, English and Mathematics, are chosen in the spring of third year. The Transition Year Programme is compulsory. Following consultation with the guidance counsellor, some flexibility is allowed to cater for changes of mind during Transition Year. It is recommended that the system of choosing Leaving Certificate subjects in third year be reviewed, especially in view of the aim of the Transition Year Programme to provide for holistic development, decision making and student maturity. It is suggested that consideration be given to allowing the choice of Leaving Certificate subjects to be made by students in the latter half of Transition Year rather than in third year as is currently the case.
Work experience is part of the Leaving Certificate Applied and Transition Year programmes. Students normally arrange their own placements in consultation with the co-ordinator. The guidance counsellor is timetabled for class work with Leaving Certificate Applied students and arranges individual and group sessions with class members as needed.
Engagement with the processes advocated by the School Development Planning Initiative was formalised at the beginning of the current school year, with the setting up of a number of task groups with responsibility for the progress of planning in identified areas of priority. Task groups are currently working on issues in the remit of Guidance such as attendance, special needs, substance use, behaviour and the needs of international students. The co-ordination of the disparate elements of the Guidance programme is in the process of being addressed. A presentation on the role of the guidance counsellor was made to staff at a recent meeting. It is recommended that priority be given to whole-school Guidance planning in the next phase of the process and that a task group be set up to co-ordinate the development of the whole-school Guidance plan. A number of useful documents have been published in recent years. Guidelines for second-level schools on the implications of Section 9(c) of the Education Act (1998), relating to students' access to appropriate guidance, sent to all schools in September 2005, and Planning the School Guidance Programme published by the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE, 2004) should be consulted. The School Development Planning Initiative will shortly publish a suite of Guidance-planning documents which will be available at www.sdpi.ie. Materials available at http://www.ncge.ie/documents/Guide_Counselling.pdf, on the NCGE website, should also prove useful.
It is also recommended that a small group of interested staff would meet regularly to plan, share ideas and co-ordinate communication in the area of student support and care. Clarity of purpose is achieved at such meetings, enabling the identification of issues, actions to be taken and of individuals responsible for the actions. Similarly, review and evaluation of the effectiveness of such initiatives in the light of the aims of the school can be more easily achieved than might be possible were the system not in operation. It is an important premise of all planning that the objectives of the plans be clearly stated at the outset. The existing links to the middle-management team and the weekly meeting of the principal and guidance counsellor should further enhance communication. The guidance counsellor organises an annual review of the needs of students in co-operation with the year heads. The guidance counsellor’s plan and scheme of work is based on the review. This practice is commended not only for the information it provides but also as a model for whole-school Guidance planning which operates on the review-design-implement-evaluate cycle.
Broadband access is available from most computers in the school, including those at the disposal of the guidance counsellor. Student access to information technology is easily arranged in consultation with teachers and the technology is used regularly in classrooms. At present, the guidance counsellor consults paper versions of student examination records which are provided by school administration. Easy access to student records is a most convenient feature of computerised systems. It is recommended that relevant aspects of the school’s electronic database be enabled for use by the Guidance department.
Staff members who deliver SPHE are conscious of the need for specialised training in the area. It is intended that access to this training, and, indeed, to all continuing professional development, will be a feature of the general plan.
Two lessons were observed with pleasure in the course of the inspection. In one case the lesson focused on recent work experience and the second included the completion of past work on the duties of employers and employees and preparation for a visit to a Cork college. Materials were well-prepared and to hand. Student folders were distributed without fuss at the beginning of each lesson and contained materials with which students appeared comfortable. The material was well-presented in logical order, clearly outlined and explained. The relaxed and orderly use of computer workstations in the room is commended. Students were attentive and absorbed and followed directions as required. Their work was appropriate and relevant to the topics in question. Students responded well to questions and, in turn, asked for clarification appropriately. It was clear from student engagement and work that material covered in this and in previous lessons had been well-retained. A high level of rapport and mutual respect was observed during each lesson. Desks were arranged to facilitate individualised attention and full use was made of the room layout. The session ended with a summary of the material and directions for further action.
The guidance counsellor and learning-support teachers assess reasoning and reading competency in the spring of sixth class. Further contact with primary schools is made by the learning-support team regarding those students identified as having special needs. The learning-support co-ordinators carry out further screening of students in September on entry. Final identification and assignment of those to whom extra teaching resources are to be provided is completed after this screening and individual education plans are drawn up. Two special needs assistants are employed. Subject teachers are informed and advised of any special needs and learning difficulties by the learning-support team. Regular monitoring of the progress of individuals is carried out by the team which is also responsible for the arrangement of Reasonable Accommodations in the State examinations. The retention and arrangement of psychological reports on students is managed in association with the National Educational Psychological Service. A member of the learning-support team volunteers as class tutor to a small class to which most students with special needs are assigned in first-year. The team is commended for its support of students and for its detailed documentation.
Aptitude tests are administered in fifth year by the guidance counsellor and are followed by interpretation of results on an individual basis.
The following are the main strengths and areas for development identified in the evaluation:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the guidance counsellor and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.