An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta

 

Department of Education and Science

 

Whole School Evaluation

REPORT

 

 

Catholic University School

89 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2

Roll number: 60540V

 

Date of inspection: 27 April 2007

Date of issue of report: 21 February 2008

 

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

1. Introduction

2. The quality of school management

3. Quality of school planning

4. Quality of curriculum provision

5. Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

6. Quality of support for students

7. Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

8. Related subject inspection reports

School Response to the Report

 

 

 

Whole School Evaluation report

 

This report has been written following a whole school evaluation of Catholic University School, Dublin 2.  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 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 in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report, and the response of the board will be found in the appendix of this report.

 

 

1.         Introduction

 

Catholic University School (CUS) was established by Cardinal Newman in 1852 to provide education for future students of University College Dublin.  In 1867, at the request of Cardinal Cullen, the school was taken over by the Marist Fathers and is now one of three Marist schools in Ireland. 

 

CUS is located on Leeson Street, Dublin 2 and has no specific catchment area. Students attend the school from all over Dublin and its environs.   It is a fee-paying school for boys and has a current enrolment of four hundred and sixty-five students.  It is expected that this enrolment will increase over the coming years to five hundred students due to recently increased capacity in terms of space.  Furthermore management attributed this projected increased enrolment to positive school developments in recent years. Pre-school and junior school facilities are also situated on the same campus.  The school is accommodated in part of four Georgian houses and also in a number of new buildings built in the courtyard behind the Georgian houses, owned by the Marist fathers.

 

 

2.         The quality of school management

 

2.1          Characteristic spirit of the school

 

The characteristic spirit of the school is shaped by the Marist philosophy of education which emphasises the pursuit of excellence and the holistic development of every student.  The school has a strong Catholic ethos in the Marist tradition, whereby students are encouraged and facilitated to achieve their full potential both academically and as members of society. 

 

The school has a mission statement which includes:   “We in CUS recognise our responsibility to develop the full potential of the boys, something that will be different for each and every one of them and to foster excellence in everything we do and everything we ask of the boys”.  The code of behaviour also refers to the way in which individuals should be treated in CUS:  “Our treatment of each other will be marked by her (Mary’s) gentleness, conviction and strength”.  At the time of the evaluation, there was evidence to suggest that these aspirations, as they pertained to the development and care of students, were being lived out in the day to day running of the school.  Students were well cared for and management and staff reported that student development is of paramount importance in every aspect of school life.

 

Some tensions and difficulties were evident in the school at the time of the evaluation.  These have arisen due to poor relationships between senior management and a small number of staff, and among some staff members and have a negative impact on many areas of school life.  Management indicated their belief that these tensions were due in part to their having prioritised certain values in accordance with the Marist tradition. Clearly, these difficulties are not consistent with the Marist ethos and vision for the school as articulated by members of the Marist community during the evaluation.  The mission statement prioritises students.   It is recommended that a more all-encompassing school mission statement, which affords priority to the students and embraces all stakeholders in the school, be developed. It should be clearly elaborated into realistic achievable aims and objectives, which will guide all school decisions and interactions and should be formulated in such a way that it will be an inspiration for all who work and study in CUS.

 

2.2          School ownership and management

 

The Marist Fathers established the Marist Education Authority (MEA) in recent years, to exercise trusteeship functions in relation to the Marist schools in Ireland.  The Marist Fathers have undertaken a worldwide and provincial review of its educational mission.  After a rigorous examination of CUS in relation to the educational mission of the Marist fathers, the Marist Education Authority has informed the school that it must meet certain “enabling conditions” if CUS is to remain viable as a Marist Catholic school.   The enabling conditions are as follows: “The school must be Marist and Catholic in its ethos, it must be excellent in all areas of the curriculum, it must be rigorously professional and the respective roles and responsibilities must be clearly delineated”.  These enabling conditions have been communicated to school management and staff.  It is the intention of the Marist Fathers to make a decision regarding the future of CUS in 2009.  It is recommended that the board take a proactive role in ensuring that the enabling conditions laid down by the Marist Education Authority can be met.

 

The first board of management in CUS was established in 2000.  The current board of management is in its first year of operation and is properly constituted with two teacher nominees, two parent nominees and four trustee members.  There is an element of continuity on the board in that some members are serving for the second and third time.  The board of management is very aware of its legal responsibilities.  Members of the board have availed of several opportunities to attend in-service, provided by the MEA and the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), on the role and responsibilities of the board of management.

 

The board has had to deal with some difficult short-term issues around staff relations in the school. It was reported by the board that the difficulties in staff relations have taken the focus away from whole school development planning.  While the school planning process has been initiated there is no school plan. The board stated its intention to focus now on questions such as the long-term future of CUS which it feels is a very real issue for the school.  It is recommended that the board, together with the trustees, takes a proactive role in developing professional working relationships across the school in order to progress and develop the school for the future and to create a positive working environment.  This will also facilitate the fulfilment of the enabling conditions laid down by the Marist Education Authority.     It is further recommended that the board focus on the need for a school plan for CUS as a matter of urgency, in line with the requirement of the Education Act (1998).  The board intends to establish a review committee in the near future to look at the review and ratification of their school policies.   It intended for example, to ratify the Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Policy at the next board meeting.  

 

 In line with the wishes of the trustees, the board sees its role as maintaining the ethos of the school, as well as financial management.  Improving the school facilities has been a priority for the board of management in recent years.  There has been significant development of the school in terms of the provision of extra classroom space and other facilities over the past four years.  Four new buildings have been provided through funding by the board, contributions from parents and fundraising.  This building development involved significant, detailed and continuous financial planning, which is commended.  Further development of the school facilities and the undertaking of more building on the school campus will be contingent on the fulfilment of the enabling conditions as specified by the MEA.

 

The mechanism which the board has developed to communicate with school staff is to issue an agreed report which is posted on the staff notice board in the school. The chairperson of the board also meets with staff during the year to give them a financial report on the school.  The Parents’ Association receives a verbal report from the principal at its meetings.

 

The large and vibrant Parents’ Association has been active in the school for a long number of years.  Parental support and work on behalf of the school was described by senior management as being invaluable.  The Association has a constitution, keeps minutes of meetings and is affiliated to the National Parents’ Council (Post Primary).  The members of the Association were supportive of the school and reported that they were very happy with the level of care and support given to their sons. Members described the school as a caring school concerned with the holistic development of the pupil.  The Parents Association meets regularly and takes an active interest in all aspects of school life.

 

2.3          In-school management

 

Senior management in the school, which comprises the principal and deputy principal, works well together and operates very much as a team.   The different roles within senior management are not formally defined and the principal and deputy principal both fulfil a range of duties depending on who is available at any given time.   The principal and deputy principal describe their roles as complementary and meet on a regular basis to discuss school issues.  It is recommended that the roles within senior management be more clearly delineated to ensure effective assignment of work.  Senior management has close contact with the Marist community and is aware of the ideals and aspirations of the trustees for the school.  Senior management in the school is supported by committed administrative staff. 

 

Senior management described, in a document made available during the course of the evaluation, the basis of its management style as being “led collaboration, centred partnership and practised policies”.  This management style, as evidenced in the course of the evaluation, is one in which senior management exerts a rigorous control.  Senior management strongly articulated the opinion to inspectors that a high level of accountability from staff for everything that happens is necessary for the smooth operation of the school.  Delegation in the school is limited to certain staff members.  There is a lack of shared commitment among staff members to the organisation arrangements in the school. Staff and management relations have been strained in recent years.  While a good working relationship exists between senior management and some staff, difficulties exist in the working relationship between senior management and other staff. These difficulties relate mainly to communication and management matters.

 

The vast majority of staff raised issues in relation to communication and trust in the school.  During the course of the evaluation for example, the issue of confidentiality regarding internal school meetings was raised by both management and staff. Confidentiality was not always respected and this was a cause for concern for management and staff members alike. The breakdown in relationships between management and a small number of staff has led to a situation where some of the internal school communication is extremely formalised, for example, much communication takes place in writing with some staff members.  Most staff members reported that the formalisation of communication has contributed to the negative atmosphere in the school. This is adversely impacting on effective school organisation and shared ownership of the school.  It is recommended that a more effective communications policy be put in place in the school to address these difficulties and to meet formal and informal communication requirements.   Such a policy should enable all staff members to be aware of relevant issues in the school and feel part of a more collaborative environment.  Overall, the lack of communication and trust in the school has led to tension and a less than favourable working environment.  Morale among all staff is reportedly extremely low and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency by school management. 

 

Senior management has already adopted some approaches to relieving tensions in the school and is commended for this.  These measures include establishing a staff management liaison committee and devising guidelines for meetings between staff members and senior management.  However, these initiatives have not been successful in effecting collaboration and good working relations.  The difficulties around relations between management and some staff and inter-staff relations in the school need to be addressed as a matter of some urgency in order that the school can move forward effectively to meet future challenges. It is strongly recommended that the board of management and the trustees source an outside agency that would undertake appropriate processes in the school to enable both management and staff to explore more effective communicative channels and ways of working together.   All staff members indicated a willingness to engage in a process that would allow people to move forward for the sake of the school and this is welcomed as a positive indication of the whole staff’s commitment to the future of CUS.  

 

There are six assistant principals in the school.  The duties covered by assistant principals include the following:  administrative officer in charge of “mock” exams, healthy school environment co-ordinator, Transition Year co-ordinator, Transition Year dean of discipline, examination secretary, and organiser of the hamper fund and co-ordinator of school functions.  The assistant principals in the school do not meet as a middle management team and do not see themselves as such.  It has not been the policy of the school to have a middle management structure and assistant principals are not widely consulted on issues within the school.  Consequently the range of duties covered by the assistant principals does not reflect the management level of these posts.  It is recommended that in a review of posts this issue be given due consideration.                                  A system whereby the assistant principals are brought together to work with senior management should be put in place in order to move towards a more effective school environment.  The engagement of assistant principals in a middle management structure in the school will begin the process of ensuring collective responsibility for the management of the school and of making staff realise that they too are accountable and responsible for the future of CUS.  It is important in the context of meeting the “enabling conditions” laid down by the Marist Education Authority that all staff feel a sense of ownership and responsibility in the school. 

 

There are twelve special duties posts in the school.  The duties covered by these posts include the following: implementation of policy in relation to drugs and alcohol, organisation of weekly marks system, organisation of lockers and book lists, organisation of the prefect system, fixtures secretary, monitoring of punctuality and uniform, green school co-ordinator, school photography and organisation of alternative sporting activities on Wednesday afternoons.  One assistant principal post and two part special duties posts are concerned with the school’s commitment to charitable and pastoral works.

 

The current schedule of posts in the school is not fully meeting the substantive needs of the school.  Documentary evidence produced during the course of the evaluation shows that, in the past, there has been some review of the post structure in the school.  A post review committee was established in the school to examine issues concerning the posts.  It was reported that the last major review of posts in a whole school context took place some years ago when staff were surveyed regarding the post structure.  Certain duties have been more recently re-examined and reassigned by senior management in light of the needs of the school after consultation with staff on an individual basis.   It is difficult to ascertain exactly what level of consultation has taken place within the school on an ongoing basis regarding the post structure as the documentary evidence is incomplete and staff opinions on the level of consultation around posts differs considerably.

 

It is recommended that a whole school review of posts take place and that roles commensurate with the levels of assistant principal posts be assigned within a review of posts as outlined in Circular Letter PPT 29/02. Some development and re-structuring of the special duties posts could also be usefully undertaken.  The development and delegation of substantive and meaningful duties within the post system should give staff a sense of ownership and collective responsibility. It is strongly recommended that school management engage the services of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to facilitate this review of posts.

 

The assistant principal post in charge of discipline in Transition Year is the only assistant principal position concerned with discipline in the school.   This was considered by staff and management to be a particular challenge in light of the less formal nature of the Transition Year schedule.  Certain duties aligned with those of disciplinary issues such as uniform and punctuality are assigned to teachers with special duties posts.  Post-holders reported that the systems around these posts are fragmentary and are not working as well as could be expected. 

 

In relation to the management of students, implementation of the code of behaviour is managed by a variety of staff members, however overall control of discipline is retained by senior management. There are four deans of discipline, which are voluntary duties. Minor disciplinary issues, which arise in the schoolyard or in the canteen, are referred by those on supervision duties to one of these four deans.  Each class in the school has a teacher responsible for that class group. The class head is responsible for the pastoral care of the students in their class and also for minor disciplinary issues.  Any serious issues that arise in the context of the classroom are referred to senior management.  A restructuring of the organisation of disciplinary procedures in the school should mean that only very serious infringements of the code of behaviour have to go to senior management and could also free up a number of special duties posts that could be more effectively reassigned elsewhere in the school.

 

Communication with parents about the progress of their children is excellent.  Parents are kept up to date through regular reports, issued every five weeks and through parent-teacher meetings.  Great efforts are made to ensure that parents are aware of the structures and systems of the school and also what programmes and subject choices are available to students.

 

 

2.4          Management of resources

 

The school has a current allocation of twenty-six permanent posts as well as a 0.5 allocation for guidance and a special needs provision of 1.11 whole time teacher equivalents (WTE).  There was evidence that these allocations were being appropriately used.  However, there were issues around the appropriate deployment of teachers to junior cycle classes in particular, in that classes sometimes do not retain the same teacher from year to year.  This may be due to the turnover of staff in the school.  Evidence from the subject inspections suggests that this has led to a lack of continuity in teaching and learning in certain subject areas.  In addition, some teachers are consistently allocated to either higher or ordinary level classes. It is important that all teachers are given the opportunity to teach different levels with a view to maintaining and enhancing their skill base.

 

A number of issues around timetabling came to light during the course of the overall evaluation and during the individual subject inspections.  For example, first-year class groups have five lesson periods of Irish a week but have three of those periods timetabled on one day. Similarly first-year class groups have five lesson periods of Mathematics a week and three of those periods are timetabled on one day.  Fifth-year class groups have six lesson periods of English a week, three of which are timetabled on one day and two of which are timetabled as a double period on another day.    This is unacceptable as good practice dictates that class contact time with a subject should be allocated at regular intervals throughout the school week.  There are also examples of lesson periods being split between teachers in certain subject areas.   Senior management needs to ensure that the school’s educational priorities define the organisation of the curriculum and the decisions of the timetable.  It is recommended that the school continue to build capacity in the area of timetabling as a matter of urgency.

 

New teachers reported that they felt well supported when they came to the school.  They are given copies of school documentation and have several meetings with senior management during the year.  Two senior teachers have also been nominated to answer questions and give support to new staff members. 

 

The situation whereby many senior staff members are not willing to sign up for substitution or supervision duties is negatively impacting on effective school organisation.  Consequently there is a disproportionate burden on a small number of senior staff and new staff members in the area of supervision and substitution.  This also pertains to most activities in the school outside of classroom teaching. The fact that these duties are not evenly distributed among staff members results in the same teachers missing classes on a regular basis in order to supervise school trips and out of class activities.  This situation is unsustainable and should be addressed as a matter of urgency by all staff members.  Senior management and the teaching staff, together with the board of management and trustees, need to find a solution in the overall context of more effective collaboration between staff and management.

 

Management indicated that staff members are facilitated to attend inservice courses. It is important to ensure that staff avails of appropriate inservice within the capacity of the school to facilitate attendance.

 

The school has employed external consultants to undertake a health and safety audit in the school.  Some of the issues addressed in the audit have not yet been implemented in the school.  However, a health and safety policy has been drawn up as part of that audit but this has not yet been ratified by the board of management. It is recommended that these issues be attended to as a matter of urgency.  It was reported that regular fire drills are held in the school.  There is no health and safety officer in the school at the moment.   This is a situation which needs to be addressed.

 

The four Georgian buildings owned by the Marist Fathers and currently serving some of the accommodation needs of the school are in need of some renovation and development.  Such developments would significantly improve the current facilities of the school.  The future development of the Georgian houses and the expansion of the school will be determined by the decision of the Marist Fathers in relation to the future of CUS.  A number of possible options regarding the future of the school have been identified in recent years.  However, these plans are contingent on the decision of the Marist Fathers to invest significantly in the school in the future. 

The library is located at present in the most significant room in terms of architectural value in one of the Georgian houses.  For this reason and due to the constant traffic that would be involved in accessing the library, it had been recommended by the school architects that the library should not be utilised in its present location and that it should be relocated as soon as possible.  In the meantime, the library is not in use, which is regrettable.  It is recommended therefore that the school examine other options for developing and promoting literacy such as book boxes, classroom shelving for subject appropriate reading material, or book trolleys, until such time as there is clarity regarding building developments.

 

The Marist community has a small oratory in one of the Georgian houses that is freely available for school use.  Class masses take place here on a rota basis every Friday morning.  The oratory is a valuable resource for the school in helping to maintain and foster its Catholic Marist ethos.

 

All teachers have their own classrooms which is a great asset to the school in ensuring a print-rich environment for students.  Many of the classrooms are equipped with DVD players and televisions, which facilitates the showing of audio-visual materials.

 

There is one computer room in the school which is due to be broadband linked in the near future.   Two staff reviews of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities and the use of ICT in the school have been undertaken and reported upon.  Evidence from the subject inspections indicates that the use of ICT as a tool for teaching and learning in the different subject areas is underdeveloped.  It is recommended that the issues identified in the school reviews of ICT and in the subject inspection reports be addressed and that management and staff explore ways in which this valuable resource can be more effectively used.  The acquisition of a small number of laptop computers and data projectors for use in classrooms could also be investigated.

 

While the school does not have playing fields on campus, the school has access to rugby and cricket pitches on school grounds some miles from the city.  Students are transported to these grounds on Wednesday afternoons by bus.  The school has a small sports hall which is well utilised and has recently installed a weights room for students in the basement of one of the buildings.  New changing facilities and showers have also been provided.

 

The canteen has been a welcome addition to the school facilities in recent years.  Students avail of this facility on a rota basis and there are discussions underway with canteen staff to establish healthy eating practices among students.  This is to be encouraged.

 

 

3.         Quality of school planning

 

As part of the review mentioned earlier, the Marist Fathers have been examining the viability of their schools in Ireland.  It is clear that significant work has been carried out by the Marist Education Authority in relation to this.   Senior management in CUS has played a key role in this review and the planning process as it pertained to their own school.  It was reported by senior management during the course of the evaluation that they have not engaged in the process of school development planning in CUS because of the demands of the review and planning for extensive building development on the school campus.  As a consequence of this, CUS does not have a school plan as required by the Education Act (1998). 

 

The school has a number of policies in place which have been ratified by the board of management. These include: an Admissions Policy, a Religious Education Policy, a Code of Behaviour, a Homework Policy, an Anti-Bullying Policy, and a draft Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Policy.  The school also has a number of documents relating to different structures and practices in the school, for example, the practice and procedures relating to pastoral care.  It is recommended that documents such as these should be drawn up as policies. All of the above should form part of the school plan.  It is recommended that a school development planning committee be established to explore the needs of the school in relation to a school plan.  It is further recommended that the school engage the services of SDPI to facilitate and expedite the process of formulating a school plan in line with the requirements of current legislation.

 

Senior management reported that all relevant stakeholders in the school had been given an opportunity to have an input into the formation of existing school policies.  Committees were established, comprising of staff members and in some cases board members, to put together draft policies.  These policies were then presented to the whole staff and eventually to the board of management for their input and final ratification.

 

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, 1999, updated issue May 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.

 

 

4.         Quality of curriculum provision

 

4.1          Curriculum planning and organisation

 

The school offers the Junior Certificate, the Transition Year programme (TY) and the established Leaving Certificate. Senior management is responsible for curriculum planning and organisation.  The curriculum in the school is predominantly academic.  It was reported by management that results of regular surveys of parents indicate that the aspiration of parents for their children is to attend a third-level college.  Senior management indicated its commitment to the pursuit of academic excellence in line with the founding principle of the school while taking cognisance of the individual abilities of the students.

 

The school has made efforts to widen its curriculum provision in recent years.  Spanish, Classical Studies and Music at Leaving Certificate level have been introduced, as well as Applied Mathematics, which is offered after school in conjunction with another local school.  Five languages are currently available in the school: English, Irish, French, German and Spanish, which has recently been introduced.  Senior management indicated that it was examining the possibility of introducing an oriental language into the curriculum in the near future.  Views expressed during the course of the evaluation would suggest that the possibility of introducing a practical subject such as Technical Drawing should also be investigated or offered as an alternative to the introduction of an oriental language.  There are many students attending the school who might benefit more effectively from the availability of at least one practical subject on the curriculum.

 

School management views the TY as core to their curriculum provision and the vast majority of students opt for this programme unless they have a valid reason, such as the age of the student, not to do so.  The TY programme has been evaluated twice in the school by the Department.  One evaluation took place as part of a pilot evaluation of Transition Year on a national basis in 1996 and the other evaluation took place in more recent years.  The school has taken steps to broaden the programme of TY in line with recommendations from these reports and a number of interesting and innovative modules have been developed in recent years for students to choose from.  For example, specially designed modules on Art, Craft and Design; Communications; Drama; Film Studies; Human Rights; Martial Arts; Marketing; and Music among others have opened up a number of valuable opportunities for students.  However, the subject evaluations carried out during the course of WSE indicate that there is an over emphasis on the academic elements of the Leaving Certificate courses in TY.   Although TY is well co-ordinated, it is recommended that the school look at the establishment of a Transition Year core team to help co-ordinate the programme and broaden its focus.   Advice and direction in relation to a review of the TY programme should be sought from the TY support team in the Second Level Support Service (SLSS).  The school at present allocates the Programme Co-ordinator’s post to the co-ordination of TY.

 

Classes are usually formed on a mixed-ability basis in first year for all subjects other than Irish and Mathematics.  Students are set in Irish classes at different levels following assessment early in the first term.  First-year students are sometimes set for Mathematics classes depending on the needs of the students who come to the school in any particular year.  Classes are set from second year onwards for Irish and Mathematics so that students can move between levels while remaining with the same core class group.  This is good practice.

 

The school is currently over an hour short of the recommended twenty-eight hours tuition time as outlined in Circular Letter M29/95.  It is recommended that the school comply with the Department Circular in this regard.

 

4.2           Arrangements for students’ choice of subjects and programmes

 

First-year students study a range of core subjects and are also offered three option bands from which they choose two extra subjects.  One of these subjects is usually a European language, which all students are strongly advised to take.  Students can choose between German, French and Spanish and have the option of choosing two European languages if they wish. Parents and first-year students are informed about the option bands and subject choices at an open meeting in April and must submit their choice before coming to the school in September.  However, should students feel they have made the wrong choice and would like to try another subject they are facilitated to change options.  Parents can also meet with senior management to discuss subject options and choices in more detail. This is good practice.

 

Parents of third-year students meet with the principal and other members of staff in March of the school year prior to TY.  At that meeting the TY programme is outlined to parents.  The various choices and options open to students during the year are explained.

 

It was reported that the Leaving Certificate options are arranged in fourth year after lengthy consultation with students and parents.  Students are invited to submit a range of subject options from which the most popular subject bands are established.  While acknowledging that the school is endeavouring to facilitate the largest number of students possible, it was noted that a small number of students are not accommodated in relation to subject choices.

 

 

4.3          Co-curricular and extra-curricular provision

 

Students have the opportunity to go on many school trips and tours, both sporting and general, including an annual trip to Paris by TY students.  Students, in the past, have also taken part in the public speaking and debating competitions organised by the Alliance Française.  Given the benefits of co-curricular activities as a means of creating enjoyable language learning experiences for students and their contribution to maintaining languages in the school, it is suggested that the range of co-curricular activities be extended in order to enable students to experience living languages. Science students have participated in many extra-curricular and out-of-school activities, which include student participation in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, Science Week activities and visits to third-level institutions. The school also runs a chess club and has a keen involvement in English debating in recent years.     There is also a school choir which focuses its activities primarily around religious celebrations in the school.

 

The school intends to send a small group of fourth-year students to the Philippines next year to spend some time working with charities run under the auspices of the Marist missions.  Some considerable planning has taken place to ensure the success of this trip and it is intended that it will be the pre-curser of many such groups going to participate in the work of the Marist communities abroad.  The work involved in planning for this trip is commended.

 

It was reported that students are strongly encouraged to participate in school sports and activities such as rugby, cricket, tennis and athletics.  The school has a long and proud tradition in these sports particularly in rugby and cricket.  While the school does not have sports grounds available on the school campus, students are transported by bus to the school rugby and cricket grounds every Wednesday afternoon.  For those who are not interested in any of the above sports, alternative activities are offered.  For example, students are brought swimming or participate in kick boxing in the school sports hall.  Students must get involved in some sport in first and second year.  Participation in sport in third year and senior cycle is at the discretion of individual students. While acknowledging that most senior cycle students do continue participating in sporting activities, it is important to continue to encourage participation by all students in some extra curricular activity.

 

 

5.         Quality of learning and teaching in subjects

 

 

5.1 Planning and preparation

 

Some teachers, observed in the course of the evaluation, maintained good individual planning documentation. Such planning documents included general schemes of work for classes on a term basis. In addition there were some individual class plans made available. Many teachers had folders of relevant resource materials, which included syllabus and assessment material. However, there was evidence that planning was conducted on an individual basis with little collaboration between teachers. Furthermore, there was no evidence of provision being made for the retention of teachers’ plans and schemes of work if teachers left during the course of the school year.  This has the effect of making it difficult for new teachers, when taking over classes, to prepare relevant coursework. It is highly recommended that subject teachers collaborate to develop a common plan for each subject area. Much of the work already completed by individual teachers can be used as a basis for these subject plans.  

 

Senior management reported that formal meetings for collaborative subject planning are facilitated on the first day of the school year. However, this poses difficulties for teachers who teach more than one subject, as meetings are all held at the same time.  Any additional subject department meetings take place informally. The lack of time accorded to formal meetings for collaborative subject planning has had the effect of limiting progress in the subject development planning process.  The absence of a subject co-ordinator system in subject areas further inhibits development.   It is recommended that a rotating co-ordinating position be created in each subject area in an effort to promote collaborative planning. Senior management needs to explore ways in which teachers can be facilitated to meet on a subject department basis. 

 

There are no specific subject budgets; however teachers order materials on a needs basis. It is suggested that the allocation of a subject budget for the purchase of books, posters and other such materials would enable the members of each subject department to identify and prioritise resource needs in a systematic way and would also better inform needs when requisitioning more significant resources.

 

Good planning was in place in advance of lessons observed. Resources and practical equipment were ready in advance and this contributed to the overall successful outcomes of lessons observed.

 

5.2 Teaching and Learning

 

During the course of the evaluation the following subjects were inspected: Irish, French, Business and Science and Physics.  Lessons were structured and well organised. Classes were effectively managed. In some instances, a lesson plan was outlined on the board, thereby engaging students from the outset. It is recommended that this commendable practice be extended to all lessons and outlined in terms of the desired learning outcome for the lesson.  In many lessons, teachers circulated the room providing individual help and support as students worked. This is highly commended.  The positive rapport between teachers and students evident in classes observed is also commended.

 

Questioning was used effectively in all lessons observed. Many lessons began with the teacher asking questions on material covered previously in class.  In this way students were challenged to come up with solutions to problems posed. Students were often guided and encouraged until the correct answer was forthcoming and were affirmed and supported. This is commended. There were some instances, however, where the same students tended to answer all the time.  In such cases it is suggested that consideration be given to getting students to brainstorm in groups to ensure that all students are engaged and on task. It is recommended that there be less emphasis on global questions and more emphasis on targeted or differentiated questions which would be more appropriate to the mixed-ability formation of many class groups.  In general however, it was reported that there was good evidence of student engagement in classes observed. 

 

Some different methodologies were observed during the course of the evaluations including effective use of the board, use of worksheets, use of audiovisual materials, development of oral skills in languages, practical investigations and teacher demonstrations.  This varied approach to teaching methodologies is commended.  However, it is important that teachers continue to investigate and implement new and innovative methodologies in order to maintain student interest and motivation. It is also recommended, in the interests of an investigative approach to learning, that students are encouraged to predict experiment outcomes rather than being told these outcomes in advance.   There was little evidence of the use of ICT in classes observed.  It was reported that this was due to limited facilities in the school in the past.  The recent development of school buildings has provided for a computer room, which should be a valuable resource for all subject areas.  It is recommended that the use of ICT as a valuable tool for teaching and learning be developed in all subject areas.

 

In the case of the languages evaluated, there was very good use of the target languages in the vast majority of the classes observed.  The effective use of the target language should be extended to all language classes and dependence on translation as a means of facilitating students’ comprehension of the target language should be avoided.  It is also recommended that there be further development of oral and written skills in language classes through the use of agreed strategies such as attention to pronunciation and systematic use of group and pair work.  This should result in increased student confidence and willingness to communicate.

 

There was effective linkage of lesson material to the everyday contemporary lives of students in some classes observed and this is commended.  The everyday application of what is learnt in the classroom helps to make teaching and learning relevant for students.

 

While some efforts have been made in recent years to review the content and delivery of the TY programme, lessons observed during the course of the evaluations indicate that much of the TY material is still largely traditional.  It is recommended that teachers use more active learning methodologies that facilitate the engagement of all students with the material in class.  Taking into account the TY guidelines, which promote new ways of learning, consideration should also be given to incorporating some aspects of learning autonomy into the subject programmes.

 

5.3 Assessment

 

A system of continuous assessment is in place for junior cycle students in CUS. There are also common summer examinations for first-year and second-year students.  This is good practice. ‘Mock’ examinations take place for third and sixth-year students and these papers are corrected by the relevant subject teachers. TY students sit three examinations over the course of the year. There is ongoing assessment and revision for all classes by means of short class tests and class questioning.

 

Parents are well informed of student progress. Two parent-teacher meetings are held for each class group. Students in junior cycle are accorded weekly marks for effort, the results of which are sent home to the parents every six weeks.  This system was reported to be an effective mechanism for motivating students and informing parents.  Fifth and sixth-year students receive four reports per year. Parents of TY students receive reports following each examination.  Continual efforts by all members of the school community to keep the parents informed of their son’s progress are commended.

 

Student progress is also monitored through the assessment of regular homework assignments.  A review of students’ copies indicated that some teachers provided annotated feedback to students. This is commended. However, it is recommended that this good practice be extended across all departments and that there is follow-up on corrections completed by students. There is good practice in that in some practical classes a portion of the marks in school examinations is allocated for practical work completed and recorded. Students generally keep good records of their practical investigations.

 

In the case of the languages evaluated there is an aural component to some assessments.  Oral assessment takes place in some instances but not in all classes.  It is recommended that the practice of oral assessment be extended to all relevant classes where appropriate.

 

 

6.         Quality of support for students

 

6.1          Students with special educational needs

 

Senior management stated that it welcomes a wide diversity of students to the school despite the academic nature of the curriculum.  All parents interested in sending their children to CUS are invited to an open morning and then all parents are subsequently invited for an interview where the particular needs of each student are discussed.   The school facilitates all students wishing to enrol in the school. This is good practice.

 

On entry to the school, psychological assessments and reports from primary schools are made available to the guidance counselling service.  All students are assessed after a month in the school with a view to establishing realistic expectations in terms of students’ abilities and future attainments.  The guidance counselling service then makes all staff aware of any difficulties or issues that an individual student might present with.

 

The school meets with the Special Educational Need Officer (SENO) to discuss resource hours for particular students. The SENO also helps the guidance counselling service and those involved in providing resource hours for students to draw up individual education plans.  This is commended.  Senior management and the guidance counselling service have several scheduled meetings a year to discuss the progress being made by students.   First-year class heads are also consulted on a regular basis about individual students.  The system of monthly testing also helps to show if students are making progress or are still experiencing substantial difficulties.  Resource teaching is available for students from first year through to sixth year.  All of this is commended.

 

Students are withdrawn from classes in groups of four to five for resource teaching.  There are specific programmes drawn up for third, fourth and fifth-year students who are withdrawn from classes in groups.  The emphasis in these classes is on developing literacy and numeracy skills.  Special classes are also established from time to time for students who are having difficulties in certain areas of the curriculum or who may need to learn at a slower pace.  For example at present, there is a special Mathematics class for second-year students and a special Irish class for first-year students.  This extra support for students is commended.

 

The school at present does not have a documented policy on the provision for special educational needs students and it is recommended that a policy on special educational needs in the school be drawn up as soon as possible.

 

 

6.2          Other supports for students: (Disadvantaged, minority and other groups)

 

The school does not have any minority groups of students or disadvantaged students in the school at present, although it has had newcomers students in the past. However, the school is open in its ethos to all students.

 

 

6.3          Guidance

 

The school has eleven hours allocation for guidance provision. The guidance counselling service works at present with first-year students in terms of assessments, allocation of resource hours and liaison with relevant staff in relation to students’ needs.  Guidance is timetabled for TY students only in the school.  Classes are provided from the fifth and sixth-year timetables for guidance when clearly necessary.  Topics such as examination review for fifth years, the CAO system, study skills and reviewing examinations for sixth years are covered during these classes.  Students are met during fifth and sixth year individually or in groups as appropriate to discuss career options and to review examination results.  The delivery of the guidance programme as outlined demonstrates effective use of available resources.

 

There is a guidance plan and it is recommended that aims and objectives for junior cycle and senior cycle should be outlined in the plan.  The effectiveness of the guidance programmes should be evaluated on an ongoing basis.  The guidance plan should also detail how guidance personnel liaise with other relevant school staff such as class heads and resource teachers.  The redrafted guidance plan should be presented to management, staff, parents and students for consultation and ratification.

 

It is of benefit that the same personnel are involved in both the guidance and counselling service and in co-ordinating the TY programme in the school.  For example, students are given opportunities during TY to access the computer room for computer training.  During this training they access appropriate websites and information regarding career options.

 

Students who are referred to the guidance counselling service for counselling specifically are also referred to other appropriate services.  They are also, on occasions, referred within the school to one of the school chaplains or to senior management for advice or counselling.

 

6.4          Pastoral care

 

Each class has a designated class head who has responsibility for pastoral care and dealing with minor infringements of the code of behaviour.  The first point of contact for students and parents in terms of pastoral care is with these class heads.  While class heads meet within general staff meetings it is suggested that more focussed meetings of class heads take place with a view to ensuring consistency in practice around the role of classhead. The fact that some of the teachers who have been assigned this role are just in their first year of teaching in the school may lead to lack of consistency.  Class heads do not always have the opportunity to teach the class that they are in charge of.  This means that they have little opportunity to get to know their students thus lessening the effectiveness of their pastoral care role.  It is recommended that class heads have a teaching role in relation to their class if at all possible.  It is further recommended that the class head system be clearly defined and documented and above all that class heads are afforded opportunities for regular communication with each other.

 

Student issues arising from the pastoral care function are referred sometimes by class heads to senior management, sometimes to the guidance counsellor and sometimes to the school chaplains.  It is recommended that a specific pastoral care policy relating to all aspects of pastoral care in the school be drawn up with clear guidelines in relations to referrals and information about specific support available in the school.

 

Although the pastoral care system in the school is not clearly defined, it was clear during the evaluation that this particular aspect of school life is a major strength in the school.  It was reported by all that there is a very positive strong relationship between staff and students and that students are well cared for and supported in every aspect of their development.  Management and staff attested to their commitment to the well being and development of the students in the school.

 

The school benefits from having two part-time chaplains who are available to the students of the school.  The two chaplains maintain a very visible presence and fulfil important roles in relation to spiritual direction for students in line with the Marist ethos.

 

At present there is no student council in the school.  There is a prefect system among sixth years that works effectively in terms of helping first years to settle into their new school and supports various other activities around the school such as promoting the green school, promoting chess, sport and debating in CUS and helping at school events.  However, the prefects are not a representative voice for the students in the school.  Consequently it is difficult for those students to effect meaningful change in the school.  Two teachers have been asked to facilitate the establishment of a student council in the school in the near future and it is recommended that this be expedited as quickly as possible. Students reported high levels of satisfaction with the school and their teachers. They mentioned also that there was a very good atmosphere in the school.

 

 

7.         Summary of findings and recommendations for further development

 

The following are the main findings identified in the evaluation:

 

·         The aspirations of the school mission statement, as they pertain to the development and the care of students, were lived out in the day to day running of the school at the time of the evaluation.  Students were well cared for and management and staff reported during the evaluation that their development is of paramount importance in every aspect of school life. 

·         Improving the school facilities has been a priority for management in the school in recent years.  There has been significant development of CUS in terms of the provision of extra classroom space and other facilities over the past four years.  This development involved significant, detailed and continuous financial planning which is commended.

·         The members of the Parents’ Association were supportive of the school and reported that they were very happy with the level of care and support given to their sons.

·         Senior management has adopted some approaches to relieving tensions in the school and is commended for this.  Furthermore, all staff members indicated during the course of the evaluation, a willingness to engage in a process that would allow people to move forward for the sake of the school.  This is welcomed as a positive indication of the whole staff’s commitment to the future of CUS.

·         Communication with parents about the progress of their children is excellent.  Parents are kept up to date through regular reports and great efforts are made to ensure that parents are aware of the structures and systems of the school and also what programmes and subject choices are available to students.

·         New teachers reported that they felt well supported when they came to the school.

·         The school has made efforts to widen the curriculum in recent years. 

·         Students are encouraged to take part in sports and other activities in the school.  The school also provides a number of co-curricular activities for students in order to broaden their enjoyment of the learning experience.

·         Good planning was in place in advance of lessons observed. Resources and practical equipment were ready in advance and this contributed to the overall successful outcomes of lessons observed.

·         Lessons were well structured and well organised. Classes were well managed. 

·         The extra support provided for students who are having difficulties with certain areas of the curriculum is commended.

·         Although the pastoral care system in the school is not fully defined, it was clear during the evaluation that this particular aspect of school life is a major strength in the school.  It was reported by all that there is a very positive strong relationship between staff and students and that students are well cared for and supported in every aspect of their development. 

 

As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:

 

·         It is recommended that an all-encompassing school mission statement be developed in line with the Marist traditions and philosophy.  It should be clearly elaborated into realistic aims and objectives, which will guide all school decisions and interactions and should be formulated in such a way that it will be an inspiration and a guide for all who work and study in CUS.

·         It is recommended that the board, together with the trustees, takes a proactive role in developing professional working relationships across the school in order to progress and develop the school for the future and to create a positive working environment.    It is further recommended that the board focus on the need for a school plan for CUS as a matter of urgency, in line with the requirement of the Education Act (1998).  A school development planning committee should be established to explore the needs of the school in relation to a school plan.

·         The difficulties around relationships between management and a small number of staff and inter-staff relationships in the school need to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order that the school can move forward effectively to meet future challenges.   It is strongly recommended that the board of management and the trustees source an outside agency that would undertake appropriate processes in the school to enable both management and staff to explore more effective communicative channels and ways of working together.  

·         It is recommended that a whole school review of posts take place and that school management engage the services of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) to facilitate this review of posts. 

·         It is recommended that senior management ensure that the school’s educational priorities define the organisation of the curriculum and the decisions of the timetable.  It is further recommended that the school should continue to build capacity in the area of timetabling as a matter of urgency.

·         It is recommended that the school look at the establishment of a Transition Year core team to help co-ordinate the programme and to broaden its focus.  It is further recommended that advice and direction in relation to a review of the TY programme be sought from the TY support team in the Second Level Support Service (SLSS).

·         It is recommended that efforts be made by the school to promote collaborative subject planning.

·         It is recommended that the school draw up policies on special educational needs and on pastoral care.

·         It is recommended that the school comply with the DES circular M29/95 in relation to time in school.

·         It is recommended that a students’ council be established in the school as soon as possible.

 

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.

 

 

8.         Related subject inspection reports

 

 

The following related Subject Inspection reports are available:

·         Subject Inspection of Irish – March 2007

·         Subject Inspection of French – April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Business – April 2007

·         Subject Inspection of Science/ Physics – April 2007

 

 


 

 

Appendix

 

School Response to the Report

 

Submitted by the Board of Management

 

 

 

 

 

Area 1   Observations on the content of the inspection report     

 

The Board of Management welcomes the WSE report. 

 

The report clearly endorses Catholic University School in all of the core areas involved in the education of students.  The report highlights the wide curriculum and subject choice, the quality of assessment, excellent communication with parents as evidenced in the monthly report, the regular parent/teacher meetings and the on-going contact with parents, the manner in which the Special Education needs of students are met, the pastoral care system as being a major strength of the school and overall the quality of the teaching and learning environment provided for the pupils.  The report indicates that lessons were well structured and planned by teachers and a range of teaching methodologies was employed.  Classroom management was noted as excellent.  There was evidence of the use of regular in-class assessment and correction of homework.

 

The report indicates that parents are very happy with the communication from the school and that new teachers coming to the school feel well supported and inducted.

 

The report acknowledges the range of planning that has taken place in the school, on the level of ethos, infrastructure and policies over the last number of years.

 

The Board wishes to congratulate management and staff in CUS on their excellent work as evidenced in the schools numbers, both in the secondary and primary schools being at their highest level in its history, and also evidenced in the number of applicants for future years and finally in the excellent Leaving Certificate examination results year after year.

 

 

 

 

Area 2   Follow-up actions planned or undertaken since the completion of the inspection activity to implement the findings and recommendations of the inspection.          

 

 

Since the Inspection took place in April 2007, the school has already taken steps to implement the recommendations.  A number of meetings have been with the staff as a whole in both the secondary and the primary school around developing an understanding of the Marist ethos with a view to reviewing the Mission Statement.


A team from the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI) have been engaged to assist with planning and completing a plan for the school and they are initially focussing on subject planning, particularly with a view to reviewing and developing strategies for on-going assessment, co-ordination of homework policies, etc.

 

All issues with regard to the timetable have been resolved and this has been helped by the school having additional time due to the extension of the school day. 

 

The school is at present considering further ambitious plans for the infrastructural development of the school and this will necessitate long term financial planning to ensure such developments are feasible. 

 

A Students Council has been established in the school and the school has further developed the student placement in the Philippines after an extremely successful first visit and an increased number of pupils and staff will be once again going to the Philippines to work in conjunction with the Society of Mary in its mission district.

 

The Board is considering how to take up other recommendations made in the light of the needs of the whole school and as part of its on-going development.