An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta

Department of Education and Science

 

Programme Evaluation Junior Certificate School Programme

REPORT

 

St Johnís College, De La Salle

Ballyfermot, Dublin 10

Roll Number: 60510M

 

        Date of inspection: 27 November 2008

 

 

 

 

Introduction

Quality of programme organisation

Quality of programme planning and coordination

Quality of learning and teaching

Programme evaluation and outcomes

Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

 

Evaluation Of The Junior Certificate School Programme

 

 

Introduction

 

This report has been written following an evaluation of the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) in St Johnís College. It presents the findings of the evaluation and makes recommendations for the further development of the programme in the school. During the evaluation, the inspector held meetings with the school principal, a core group of teachers and with a small group of students. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector liaised extensively with the programme coordinators and visited classrooms to observe teaching and learning. The inspector provided oral feedback to teachers on lessons observed. The inspector also examined studentsí work and reviewed relevant documentation pertaining to the programme, as well as teachersí written preparation. The outcomes of the evaluation were discussed with the school principal and the programme coordinators following the evaluation.

 

St Johnís College is situated on Le Fanu Road in Ballyfermot and is one of four post-primary schools in the Dublin 10 area. The school is included in the Delivering Equality

of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme, the Department of Education and Scienceís action plan for combating educational disadvantage. The school also participates

in the School Completion Programme (SCP). The JCSP has operated in the school for the past seven years and in the current year there are fifty-seven students following

the programme: thirty-one in first year, fourteen in second year and twelve in third year. There are two JCSP class groups in the first year of the junior cycle, and one in

each of second and third year.

 

 

1 Quality of programme organisation

 

1.1               Whole-school support

The JCSP is well established in the school. The programme enjoys considerable support from management, staff and students alike. It was clear during the evaluation that both the principal and deputy principal have high regard for the programme, and have a common vision for how it should develop in the school. The principal is particularly proactive in supporting its implementation and development. All staff encountered during the evaluation expressed their support for the programme. The school subscribes to the aims of the JCSP.

 

Morale was high among the two JCSP coordinators at the time of the evaluation and this seemed to permeate throughout the JCSP planning, support/organisation and teaching teams. There is a whole-school approach to implementing and publicising the JCSP in the school and there is good awareness of the programme among staff. The programme is occasionally discussed at staff meetings thereby keeping staff informed as appropriate. Also, a notice board dedicated to JCSP matters is in place in the schoolís staff room. Communication structures could be enhanced even further if a dedicated JCSP student notice board were put in place.

 

Teachers who are new to the programme are inducted into the JCSP by the coordinators and by attending relevant continuous professional development (CPD) courses. Teachers are encouraged and facilitated to avail of appropriate CPD. To date, the level of staff engagement with relevant courses, and particularly that of the JCSP coordinators, is impressive. The JCSP support service recently addressed all teaching staff regarding the programme.

 

 

1.2               Resources

The schoolís involvement in DEIS contributes significantly to the resources available to cater for the needs of its JCSP student cohort. The school, for example, is involved in its local school completion programme (SCP), a programme that specifically offers students support to complete their education. The school also has the services of a home-school-community liaison (HSCL) coordinator who works regularly with JCSP students and their parents. The 0.25 teacher allocation received by the school in respect of JCSP is appropriately used to provide coordination and teacher meeting time.

 

The JCSP coordinators are provided with opportunities to contribute to the development of the JCSP timetable annually. This is good practice. The optional subjects in the programme are timetabled concurrently with mainstream Junior Certificate classes. This has beneficial effects in integrating JCSP students in the overall junior cycle cohort, while simultaneously providing them with the opportunity to study the subjects at the level which best suits their ability levels. The school should work towards timetabling core subjects concurrently also. Given the central importance of literacy and numeracy skills development in the JCSP, the school should give priority to timetabling the core subjects in the earlier part of the day as much as possible. Students tend to succeed better at those subjects that require a high degree of concentration if they are provided with these lessons at this time.

 

Funding is deployed to the programme on a collaborative basis between management, coordinators and teachers. Resources, within reason, are acquired readily by the JCSP coordinators and staff. A range of dedicated JCSP teaching and learning resources is in use across the programme. An inventory of these was in place at the time of the evaluation which helped to keep staff informed of the resources available to them within the school. Staff also share available resources.

 

1.3               Student selection and support

The school principal and a number of other staff members are involved in selecting students for participation in the JCSP. A wide range of criteria is applied as part of the selection process which helps to ensure that target students are availing of the programme. The JCSP student profiling system is used on an ongoing basis as a means of identifying those who would benefit from continued participation in the programme, as well as those who might no longer require the support of the programme. These are commendable practices.

 

The school implements effectively a range of initiatives for JCSP students aimed at counteracting early school leaving. The JCSP, SCP and HSCL coordinators invest significant effort and energy in getting to know learners on an individual basis. This person-centred approach is a key support for students. A structured transfer programme is in place for those students moving from primary to post-primary school and students are appropriately inducted into the JCSP. This transfer programme could be enhanced by the introduction of a peer mentoring system that would see senior cycle students act as mentors for first year JCSP students. Such a system could also contribute to enhancing the quality of relations among the student body generally.

 

Other supports employed by the school include a breakfast and lunch club. In the absence of a school canteen, this facility is very much appreciated by students. JCSP studentsí attendance is closely monitored and after-school and outdoor activities are regular features of the programme. While the school provides after-school study support for students, few JCSP students avail of this service. The schoolís strategies to promote positive discipline, such as the behaviour challenge, along with the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) provision in the JCSP, act as further supports for students. The JCSP also places an emphasis on improving studentsí motivation and self-confidence.

 

Currently, there is no guidance provision for JCSP students. It is recommended that this be addressed as a matter of priority. A structured programme in guidance should be developed for JCSP students. The schoolís guidance policy and plan should be updated accordingly.

 

The school considers the JCSP to be a suitable programme for students with special educational needs. A range of supports were in place at the time of the evaluation to support these students. These included endeavouring to keep JCSP class sizes small thereby providing a low student-to-teacher ratio in classrooms. The schoolís resource teacher works with small groups of JCSP students on cross-curricular activities, while team teaching is used as a means of providing extra support in some curricular areas. Additional support is provided on an individual basis or in small groups by the learning-support teacher, predominantly through the medium of withdrawal from mainstream lessons. Finally, special needs assistants (SNAs) are deployed across JCSP classes.

 

1.4               Home, school and community links

The parents of prospective JCSP students, and the students themselves, are sufficiently informed about the JCSP prior to their enrolment on the programme. Students also learn about the JCSP through other informal channels such as discussions with friends who have completed the programme previously. This informal learning was seen to impact significantly on studentsí decision-making processes regarding the junior cycle. Consideration should be given to providing the more senior JCSP students with the opportunity to address parents and prospective students on JCSP information nights.

 

The JCSP and HSCL coordinators initiate, or involve themselves, in the majority of contacts between the school and the homes of JCSP students. Ongoing contact is maintained through formal and informal parent-teacher meetings, through twice yearly assessment reports sent home and through telephone calls. JCSP postcards are used regularly by the majority of teachers. An examination of a sample of studentsí homework journals revealed that the journal is not being fully exploited as a home-school communications tool. Parents in particular should be encouraged to make greater use of the journal as a means of communicating directly with teachers. Also, the journal should be used by teachers as a means of providing balanced feedback to parents on studentsí progress.

 

The school works diligently to overcome the reluctance of some parents to engage with the school. The parentsí room encourages parents to visit the school and in recent times the JCSP coordinators organised a coffee morning for parents. The school also runs courses for parents on topics relevant to their own, and their childrenís, needs.

 

The schoolís location means that JCSP students are able to access and avail of a range of community facilities and attractions. This is evidenced from the range of out-of-school activities provided for JCSP students annually. Involvement in the SCP also provides opportunities for links to be developed between the JCSP and the school community.

 

 

2 Quality of programme planning and coordination

 

2.1               Planning

While there is no formal written plan in place for the JCSP there is an abundance of planning documentation in place pertaining to the programme. This documentation should now be collated with a view to developing a three year JCSP plan, and integrating it into the school plan.

 

A JCSP planning team is in place in the school. This team comprises the two JCSP coordinators and two other teachers. The planning team meets on average four times annually: once at the start of the year to plan for the coming year, twice during the year to monitor the implementation of the programme and once at the end of the year to evaluate the programme. Meetings of this team are recorded and school management is kept informed of progress. This is good practice.

 

There are four JCSP support/organisation teams in the school, one for each JCSP class group in the junior cycle. Each team comprises a number of JCSP specialist staff members and mainstream class teachers: some staff members are common to all four teams. The main function of these teams is to carry out the profiling of students. Each team meets weekly for the duration of one lesson period. These meetings are incorporated into the timetables of the relevant teachers. A small number of JCSP students are selected for profiling at each meeting. Among the items discussed at the profiling meetings are: studentsí punctuality, attendance, behaviour, homework and overall progress. Teaching methods are discussed, but to a lesser extent. Regular profiling meetings make it possible to compile accurate student profiles. The frequency of formal JCSP profiling meetings is commended.

 

Not all of the teachers of those subjects in which students are profiled are able to attend profiling meetings. These teachers, however, are able to contribute to profiling meetings through the JCSP coordinators. All profiling of students, therefore, contributes to a studentís final JCSP profile. This is good practice. Currently, JCSP students are not profiled in some of their subjects. It is recommended that the profiling system be implemented in all JCSP subjects.

 

The entire JCSP teaching team meets mostly in smaller groups throughout the year. The school endeavours to keep its JCSP teaching team small, but at the same time large enough to contain the range of skills required to provide an effective programme. This is good practice as it facilitates high quality relationships to be formed between students and teachers.

 

2.2               Coordination

Since its introduction the programme has benefited from the commitment and dedication of a coordinator who, at this point, has accumulated significant knowledge of and expertise in the programme. A second JCSP coordinator was appointed in 2008 as a result of an expansion in the number of students following the programme. Both coordinators work well together and their positions are linked to posts of responsibility at special duties teacher level. The time allocated to coordination of the JCSP per week, including JCSP coordinator and teacher meeting time, amounts to eleven hours and twenty minutes. This is a generous level of provision.

 

A high level of resources is made available so that coordination duties can be carried out effectively. The coordinators have access to an office, to ICT facilities, to a phone and a photocopier. Both coordinators also have access to the schoolís administrative support.

 

The programme coordinators maintain good communications with school management and actively facilitate the sharing of resources and good practice among JCSP teachers. There is a good level of record-keeping in the JCSP and the majority of this work falls to the coordinators. Currently, one of the coordinators does not have any timetabled contact time JCSP students. This situation should be kept under review.

 

2.3               Curriculum

The JCSP curriculum comprises a diverse range of subjects. All students study English, Mathematics and Gaeilge. Currently, eight JCSP students have an exemption from Gaeilge. In addition all JCSP students are provided with a course in Irish Cultural Studies. This is good practice. All JCSP students also study History, Geography, Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) and two other optional subjects. The optional subjects available to JCSP students include a number of applied science and modern European language subjects, as well as Business Studies and Art, Craft and Design. These optional subjects, as referred to earlier, are timetabled concurrently with mainstream Junior Certificate classes. JCSP students therefore study these subjects in a mixed ability setting. This requires effective planning and organisation on the part of teachers. While Science is provided for JCSP students, the subject has been under review for some time in a bid to determine a suitable form of provision for JCSP students. In total, JCSP students study in the region of eight or nine Junior Certificate examination subjects.

 

The non-examination subjects studied by JCSP students include Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Religious Education. JCSP students lament not being provided with lessons in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Physical Education. When reviewing the JCSP at the end of the current year the school should explore if existing ICT resources can be deployed more effectively across the programme. Further, while acknowledging the programme of out-of-school activities provided for students and relevant accommodation restrictions, it is recommended that an element of Physical Education be formally introduced into the JCSP curriculum. The schoolís indoor assembly area and outdoor sports facilities provide opportunities in this respect.

 

Dedicated JCSP initiatives are regular features of the programme provided in St Johnís College. These include the make-a-book initiative, paired reading, readalong, story-telling, BodhrŠn project, make-your-own-opoly and behaviour, attendance and reading challenges. These initiatives help place an emphasis on the development of studentsí literacy and numeracy skills and help promote a culture of reading among students. JCSP initiatives also promote the development of studentsí social and personal skills.

 

Currently, the school does not have a library. Recently, however, substantial funding was secured to develop a library facility. This is commendable. Consideration should be given to situating the library in a central location within the school. This would make it more accessible to students and would help to ensure that it contributes to the enhancement of the educational experience of students.

 

 

3 Quality of learning and teaching

 

3.1               Planning and preparation

The planning and preparation for those lessons observed during the evaluation was of a good standard. A greater emphasis on short-term planning was evidenced than on long-term planning. There is scope for subject department planning processes in the optional subjects in particular to focus more on planning for teaching and learning in the JCSP. Such planning should place a greater emphasis on differentiated teaching methods.

 

Studentsí profiling subject statements are generally selected by teachers in collaboration with students themselves. This is optimum practice. Some teachers spoke about difficulties that they had with certain learning targets, while others expressed dismay at the large number of targets associated with some subject statements. It is suggested that similar weighting of effort be given to the selection of both subject specific statements and the associated learning targets to be covered. It is not always necessary to cover all learning targets. Cross-curricular statements are generally chosen by teachers. There is an opportunity for students to be involved more in this process.

 

There was evidence of the effective use of statements and learning targets in some of the subjects and lessons observed. The folders used for tracking studentsí progress are stored in a central location. These folders are utilised in the classroom by teachers and students at periodic intervals. A small number of teachers keep their own folders in their classrooms. While this system appears to be operating well, consideration should be given to progressing to a situation where all teachers store records of studentsí statements and learning targets in their own classrooms. This would facilitate more frequent referrals to statements and targets by teachers and students and would ultimately lead to students becoming more familiar with the JCSP profiling system.

 

There was excellent planning for resources in most of the JCSP lessons observed. Frequently, this involved teachers either adapting existing or creating new sets of teaching materials. Good practice in this respect should be replicated across all lessons. It is also important to ensure that textbooks are appropriate to the needs, abilities and interests of students.

 

3.2 Learning and teaching

A total of seven lesson periods mostly in the optional subjects was visited during the inspection. There was appropriate monitoring of studentsí attendance and punctuality in each of the classes visited. The pace of teaching varied between lessons depending on the subject matter being taught but was generally appropriate to studentsí ability levels. Students were also allowed to progress at their own pace in most lessons. Some lessons would have benefitted from the learning objectives being made clear to students at the outset of the lesson.

 

The more successful lessons were characterised by the use of a variety of teaching approaches which effectively accommodated studentsí different learning styles. This approach made learning more interesting, and made studentsí learning experiences more manageable. A good range of teaching methods was employed across the different lessons observed. These included whole class teaching, small group and pair work, use of the whiteboard and overhead projector, learning games, question and answer sessions, discussion, debate, brainstorming, use of ICT and practical work. Most teachers regularly moved around their classrooms during lessons keeping students on task. This strategy proved particularly effective where opportunities were taken to discretely provide students with individual tuition or support.

 

Students were actively involved in their learning in the majority of lessons observed. In the more effective lessons students were supported in their endeavours by high expectation and encouragement from their teachers. There was regular reinforcement of learning in some lessons which gave students confidence in what they had covered.

 

Teachers were supported in their endeavours by special needs assistants (SNAs) in most of the lessons observed. In some instances, however, it was clear that there was potential for this support to provide more efficient outcomes. In some subject areas benefits would accrue from more formal consultations between individual teachers and SNAs. It is important that clear directions and support are given to SNAs in relation to the duties they are expected to carry out. The allocation of an SNA to assist a student should be balanced against the studentís need to develop independence and to gain access to education in school alongside and in the same way as the other students. Individual learning plans (ILP) are in place for those JCSP students with special educational needs. Efforts should be made to strengthen communication between subject teachers and the education care team regarding studentsí ILPs to support the further inclusion of students in all lessons.

 

The development of studentsí literacy skills was prioritised in the majority of observed lessons. Most classrooms were print-rich learning environments and JCSP keyword posters were is use in classrooms. Key skills of reading, handwriting and spelling were regularly encouraged in lessons and keywords encountered were explained to students. Word searches and crosswords were regular features of lessons. These good practices should be replicated across all lessons. There was less of an emphasis placed on the development of studentsí numeracy skills.

 

There was a constructive atmosphere in the lessons observed. Good behaviour was affirmed and inappropriate behaviour, where it occurred, was dealt with swiftly and fairly. Students were enthusiastic and willing participants in most lessons, while the quality of interaction between teachers and students was positive and respectful.

 

3.3 Assessment

JCSP students are subject to the same forms of assessment applied in the case of other student cohorts in the school. These include, among others, written examinations, topic tests, oral assessment, teacher observation and completion of assignments and project work. The JCSP profiling system is an assessment tool that is unique to the JCSP student cohort. The profiling system as applied in the school facilitates systematic tracking and recording of studentsí progress. Individual student folders are maintained which contain records of subject and cross-curricular statements completed, and samples of exemplar work produced by students. Students took great pride in showing their folders to the inspectors. Consideration should be given to developing further assessment techniques that include a degree of student input such as involving students in evaluating their own work and reaching agreements between teacher and student on the quality of work submitted.

 

The school is currently in the process of devising a homework policy. While JCSP students received homework in a few of the classes visited an examination of a sample of homework journals revealed that homework is assigned only sparingly in the programme. A practice exists in the JCSP that sees students being allowed time to start or complete Ďhomeworkí for a period of time towards the end of lessons. The popular reason offered for this practice was because students were unable to complete work at home. In light of this, homework which emphasises applied learning might be more suitable for JCSP students. Teachers should explore allocating non-traditional types of homework, for example, research, recording observations, analysing television programmes and gathering samples of everyday materials for use as learning supports in lessons. One section of the homework policy currently being developed should be devoted to homework and the JCSP. There is also scope for the SCP to assist students with homework. Consideration should be given to re-establishing the homework club.

 

Celebration events and end-of-year presentations of profiles to students are used as ways of rewarding achievement. Student challenges are rewarded on an individual and class group basis. These events act as a stimulus and source of motivation for students.

 

 

4 Programme evaluation and outcomes

 

Commendably, the JCSP in St Johnís College is regularly evaluated and reviewed. The JCSP coordinators keep the programme under continual review throughout the year but also, following the final profiling meeting of the year, engage in a round of evaluative discussions concerning the programme with different school personnel. There is an opportunity for the board of management and guidance teacher to become more centrally involved in this process. There was ample evidence to suggest that these evaluations result in changes being made to the programme. In recent times such evaluations have resulted in changes to the JCSP curriculum, to the number of profiling meetings and students profiled and to the organisation of supports for students with special educational needs. Consideration could be given to holding a more substantial formal review, involving an expanded number of personnel as suggested above, every three years. This review could link in with the development and review of a JCSP plan.

 

There was evidence to suggest that the JCSP contributes towards enhanced student attendance and retention, studentsí motivation, participation and attitude to school and to the development of studentsí social and personal skills. It is noteworthy that students viewed JCSP initiatives as a source of motivation for them at school. Students spoke confidently about their experience of the JCSP, they approached their interview with a sense of maturity, they were keen to communicate the type and extent of the work that they were involved in and they had some very good ideas with regard to how the programme could develop. However, students informed the inspector of their belief that a certain stigma attaches to the programme. The school should now proactively endeavour to address this reported issue, and work towards improving the wider perceptions of the programme.

 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the JCSP contributes towards enhanced student performance in the Junior Certificate examination. While all senior cycle options in the school are open to students following their completion of the JCSP, the most popular destination for students is the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) programme. An enhanced guidance programme in the JCSP will help ensure that studentsí explore fully all of their progression options.

 

 

5 Summary of strengths and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:

 

         There is a good level of whole-school support for the JCSP in St Johnís College. School management are particularly proactive in supporting its implementation and development.

         The schoolís record with regard to engagement with dedicated JCSP continuous professional development is commendable.

         A broad range of criteria is applied when selecting students for the programme.

         The school effectively implements a range of initiatives for JCSP students aimed at counteracting early school leaving.

         A range of supports was in place at the time of the evaluation to support students with special educational needs.

         The frequency of formal JCSP profiling meetings in the school is commended. This facilitates the compilation of accurate student profiles.

         The JCSP coordinators are committed to the programme and work well together. Also, there is generous allocation of weekly coordination time to the JCSP.

         The timetabling practices applied in the case of optional subjects have beneficial effects in integrating JCSP students in the overall junior cycle cohort.

         Dedicated JCSP initiatives are regular features of the programme in the school.

         The schoolís plan to develop a school library is commended.

         There was evidence of the effective use of statements and learning targets in some of the subjects and lessons observed.

         There was excellent planning for resources in most of the JCSP lessons observed. Studentsí literacy skills were prioritised in the majority of observed lessons.

         The more effective lessons were characterised by the use of a variety of teaching approaches and by students being supported in their endeavours by high expectation and encouragement from their teachers.

         JCSP student achievement is appropriately acknowledged and rewarded.

         The JCSP experience impacts positively on students in a range of areas including attendance, retention, participation, motivation and attitude to school.

 

 

As a means of building on these strengths the following key recommendations are made:

 

         Existing JCSP planning documentation should be collated with a view to developing a three-year JCSP plan. This plan should be integrated into the school plan.

         A structured programme in guidance should be developed and implemented for JCSP students. The schoolís guidance policy and plan should be updated accordingly.

         The JCSP profiling system should be implemented in all JCSP subjects.

         A review should be undertaken of the role of special needs assistants in classrooms.

         A section in the homework policy currently being developed should be devoted to the JCSP. There is also scope for the SCP to assist students with homework and for the homework journal to be exploited more as a home-school communications tool.

 

 

 

 

  Published, June 2009